GuruMantras™ of Root Cause Analysis

Akshay V Jain Khanter's picture
 “Things are not always what they seem” 

All organizations have problems that plague their operations, reduce profits, and create customer dissatisfaction. Most organizations try to fix these problems quickly without ever finding what caused them in the first place, making the problems reappear. Over the years a number of quality control & improvement programs have been introduced, which mainly aim at reducing the number of defects produced or to emphasize the value of defect-free processes or performance. Some of these programs are Zero Defects, Quality Circles, Six Sigma, TQM etc. The basic theme of all these programs are remarkably similar that is “Do it right the very first time” Many organizations use these tools to tackle all their problems related to operations & production irrespective of whether they create any value.


In addition to the techniques listed above, Root Cause Analysis can be a powerful tool to help determine current obstacles for improvement, as well as identify those particular areas in which operations/process improvements might produce the greatest benefit. Root cause analysis is the process of finding and eliminating the cause, which would prevent the problem from returning. Only when the root cause is identified and eliminated can the problem be solved. As the name implies, root cause is that most basic reason due to which a problem has (or could) occur.


Root Cause Analysis helps identify what, how and why something happened, thus preventing recurrence. It is a tool for Effective problem solving because this methodology could be applied in generic fashion to almost any problem. Effective root cause analysis is one of the most necessary step involved in developing and implementing a viable productivity and quality improvement program.


Root Cause Analysis is a tool designed to help in identifying not only what and how an event occurred, but also why it happened. Only when investigators are able to determine why an event or failure occurred will they be able to specify workable corrective measures that could help prevent future events of the same type. Root causes are underlying causes. The investigator’s goal should be to identify specific underlying causes. The more specific the investigator can be about why an event occurred, the easier it will be for him to arrive at recommendations that will prevent recurrence.


For the problem solving process to be effective, the root cause evaluation must therefore uncover and correct the situation’s root cause, not just treat the symptom(s). As discussed earlier, root cause analysis is the process of getting to the root of a problem & its source. If problems are not properly analyzed, removed or rectified then they may again reappear. Perhaps more ominously, they can spread to other areas. 


Root Cause Analysis can be done with the help of a simple and effective 4 step process:

  1. Data collection.
  2. Data Analysis.
  3. Root cause identification.
  4. Recommendation generation and implementation

We often mistake apparent cause of any problem as the root cause. An apparent cause is one which represents the immediate or obvious reason for a problem and many a times the cause to the problem occurs to a reason we are totally unaware of thus neglecting the real actual root cause.


Root Cause Analysis in terms of business could well be defined as “Identification of the underlying cause(s) of specific areas of deficiency in business processes” and otherwise also root cause analysis is such a tool which could be used in our everyday life thus resulting in understanding people, situation and ourselves better.



The above columnist was recognized with the Best Entrepreneur Award (youth category) by DSI. He is also acknowledged as the Best Manager, Bangalore University; Best CEO, Manipal University and the youngest entrepreneur to be nominated for the Hottest Startups Award by TATA & NEN.