When a project goes sideways, one of the hardest (but most vital) parts of getting back on track is finding out what exactly went wrong.
Trying to solve a problem with a wild guess is not only irresponsible, but it also might make problems worse before they get better. It’s best to leave the guesswork out in the wild where it belongs and, instead, start from a strong place based on facts and data.
When you need a focused, decisive plan to address problems, consider using root cause corrective action (RCCA). This method is part of a process you may already be familiar with: Root Cause Analysis (RCA). Root cause analysis isn’t always quick or easy, but deploying concrete corrective actions can save your company money, time, and frustration in the long run.
In this article, we’re going to walk you through the definition of root cause corrective action, plus give you tips on how to use it.
What is a Root Cause Analysis?
First things first. A Root Cause Analysis is a method of finding and fixing problems that affect a project.
Dr. Edwards Deming, an American statistician and professor at Princeton University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, coined the term “root cause” in his area of expertise: quality control. According to Deming’s philosophy, the way to get rid of systemic issues is by addressing the root causes instead of only treating the symptoms.
Let’s use a real-world example…
Imagine going to the doctor with a sore eye. The nurse patches you up and sends you on your way. Then the following week, you go back with the same problem. And again the following week. By this point, the nurse will probably start to ask questions.
You explain to the nurse that you keep forgetting to take the spoon out of your coffee when you drink it, and it’s the spoon that’s poking you in the eye. Rather than repeating the poking/patching-up cycle, the nurse will probably recommend you change your coffee drinking habits. Repeatedly patching up your eye treats the symptoms, whereas taking your spoon out of the cup before drinking addresses the root cause.
Root Cause Analysis is an important part of any organization or business because it helps prevent future mistakes from happening again and again. The purpose is to find the core reason why a problem occurred, not to place blame on someone or come up with alternative explanations.
What is Root Cause Corrective Action?
Root Cause Corrective Action (RCCA) is a solution for eliminating non-conformities that will lead to problems if left undetected. You can’t prevent the effects of an event that has already happened, but with RCCA, you can stop it from occurring again.
Root cause corrective action can also be a series of actions designed to improve an overall process. So, rather than focusing on single mistakes (which RCA does), it looks at the big picture and hones in on weak points that might cause problems.
Root Cause Corrective Action deals with factors that could contribute to a problem and includes actionable steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again. It’s commonly used in Quality Management Systems, in which there are protocols to help you follow standardized steps. You can then replicate these steps, so future teams can put them into action to make the organization perform efficiently.
So, why is RCCA so valuable?
By using Root Cause Corrective Action, you can improve the quality and longevity of any problem-solving process performed in your company.
How to perform RCCA as part of your RCA
A Root Cause Analysis is a vital part of fixing a project that has gone wrong, but choosing the right corrective action is crucial. This is where a root cause analysis template comes in handy. The process becomes more productive and evidence-based, so you can assess the situation thoroughly and prioritize well.
A root cause analysis diagram has all the information you need to perform an in-depth analysis. Here are some sections to include your documentation:
- Date of Investigation
- Scope of Investigation
- Event Description (What happened)
- Contributing factors (Why did this happen?)
- What needs to be corrected? And how will this happen?
To perform a proper root cause analysis, give yourself plenty of time, gather detailed information from employees and clients, and interview people who have valuable insight. Use the data you collected to form a hypothesis about possible causes of the problem, and then test them. The final step is to develop solutions that fit your company values and overall vision.
This whole process can take anywhere between one to six weeks, depending on the size of the organization and the severity of the problem.
How to perform an RCCA (using a real-world example)
To see how this works in practice, consider an example of someone with car troubles. The car randomly loses power while driving, and after you pull over and restart it, it seems to work fine again. The immediate solution would be to check that all fluids are at their correct levels. But if the root cause is dirty fuel injectors or faulty spark plugs, topping up engine oil won’t help much.
Here are the steps to follow using this example.
1. Define the process or product characteristic you want to improve. Once you identify the subject, determine the metric you should use to measure the current performance of the product or service. In this case, we have a car that should be running smoothly. We know the fuel injectors are clogged with dirt, but it seems to be operating properly aside from this.
2. Collect data on the existing performance metric for this product or service. This provides a representative sample of performance under normal operating conditions and at their expected lifetime or usage cycle. In this case, we could take several trips between two locations and note down how many times the car loses power during each journey. We should also note how long it takes to restart after pulling over and shutting off the engine.
3. Create a hypothesis for the root cause of the problem. In our case, the hypothesis is that the injectors are likely clogged with dirt due to poor fuel quality, and they will not be able to mix air and gas properly in the combustion chamber, which makes them stall. If this is true, we can expect more power loss when using a vehicle fitted with a diesel engine rather than a petrol one because diesels run on higher compression ratios.
4. Test your hypothesis by trying to fix the issue. In our case, we drive over to a nearby station that sells high-quality gasoline and fill up after draining most of it from all tanks. Afterward, the car runs great!
5. Find out who is responsible for the issue, and take steps to make sure it won’t happen again. This is your Root Cause Corrective Action. This could range from assigning an oversight committee to putting a documented process in place to prevent future errors.
6. Ask yourself evaluative questions: was my root cause analysis thorough? Did I find out why the problem occurred and not just how it occurred? Does this issue keep occurring? Are there factors that might lead to it happening again?
7. Follow up on your root cause analysis. If you successfully identified the root cause, take action to fix it! When the root cause keeps reoccurring, go back to step 5. If you no longer have a recurring issue, well done! You’ve solved a problem before it had a chance to escalate.
Remember: Always be prepared to challenge your conclusions. And be aware that what seems like a root cause might actually point towards a more significant problem. Constantly reassess the data, rather than relying on assumptions. Then, think about alternatives, and rank them according to suitability.
Root Cause Corrective Action best practices
- Focus on solving real problems, and realize the value in addressing them
- Use an effective problem-solving process, like RCA
- Get the necessary people involved
- Use problem-solving tools, such as cause and effect diagrams, to determine the root cause
- Implement the new and improved procedure
- Review and update regularly
Documenting your corrective actions saves time if you ever need to implement a similar problem-solving strategy in the future. With our diagramming tool, Cacoo, you can create visuals for presenting your analysis, store them in the cloud, and easily share them with your team. Get started developing a library of custom diagrams to streamline your business processes and bring consistency to projects.