You wake up one morning with a throbbing headache. You stumble to your medicine cabinet for a painkiller. Within minutes the pain is but a memory. However, after a few hours, the headache is back. You decide to self-medicate again, hoping it is nothing serious.
But, you are now beginning to understand that the painkiller could be masking symptoms of something more serious. Eventually, you book an appointment with your doctor for a checkup. You are confident he will tell you what the root cause of the never-ending headaches is. Sounds familiar?
Well, the example above is the simplest way of understanding the concept of root cause analysis. So, how can you apply the same to solve business problems? We will delve into the topic in a little more detail below.
Root Cause Analysis, What Is It?
As the name suggests, root cause analysis (RCA) is the process of understanding and solving problems by going right to the root of the issue. You do not treat the symptoms, in this case, the headaches from our intro above. Rather, you take a systematic approach to discover the underlying issues.
The systematic approach incorporates many different elements. You must identify the principles, methodologies, and best techniques. You bring all these together to give you the leverage you need to get to the issues' root cause.
RCA Use in the Business Environment
Think about the business environment. The expectation is that with proper systems in place, operations should flow smoothly, right? Well, talk to any business owner, and they will tell you otherwise.
You may, for example, start to notice trends amongst the employees that interrupt the efficient running of the business. They may bicker, give each other silent treatment, and even refuse to collaborate. Over time, the issues become significant problems for the company. The employees cannot seem to get along. It would be easy to conclude that there is a personality clash amongst the employees.
You may resort to measures that you hope will bring a resolution to the conflicts. Yet, you may very well be wasting your time. Why? Because you have not taken the time to go deeper into the issues.
By applying the root cause analysis technique, you may find the underlying issues may be poor management.
RCA requires you to understand the root cause of a problem. You must then identify a way to fix the underlying issues. Finally, use the solutions to prevent future occurrences of the same.
Two RCA Tools for Solving Business Problems
Let's look at two of the best RCA tools you can use to solve business problems.
1. 5 Whys RCA Tool
The 5 Whys root cause analysis format requires you to keep asking why until you get to the root cause. You may want to avoid using the tool for problems needing statistical input. It, however, provides a fantastic way to peel back the layers until you get to the real issue.
To illustrate the point further, let explore the employee issue above.
Problem - the company productivity has gone down
- Why - the employees are not productive and output has gone down
- Why - there is a lack of morale and a lot of infighting
- Why - employees feel the management does not listen to them. Others are complaining of favoritism
- Why - there is a lack of communication channels between management and staff
- Why - there is a strong focus on hierarchies and titles. It makes management seem unapproachable (Root cause).
The main idea is one question should lead to the next. It helps remove any assumptions as you get more clarity to the issue.
2. The Fishbone RCA Tool
Fishbone approaches problem-solving from a cause and effect standpoint.
The process entails the use of categories and branches for issues. From the diagram above, we can break it down as:
- The main problem - poor quality products
- Categories include technology, machines, workers, management, etc.
- Branches specific to each category. For instance, under workers, we have concentration, ailments, education, etc.
Do note, digging deep into causes and sub-causes is critical. You must also add and eliminate some of the elements until you arrive at the root cause of the problem.
How To Ensure A Proper RCA For Solving Business Problems
- You Must Be Patient
The success of an RCA analysis requires patience. You need to remove layers upon layers of information before you reach the root. And even once you get there, you must continue to ask questions.
Let's take the example of the 5 Whys scenario above. Our root cause is, the hierarchies in the organization are making management seem unapproachable. But, we could add a sixth why.
Why do the hierarchies exist? Is it the HR policy, or is that the corporate culture. Without a doubt, it is a process that requires a lot of introspection.
- It Requires Teamwork
RCA works well when many people are part of the process. You cannot, as the business owner, come up with all the possible scenarios. Input from different people in the organization will help you get to the root cause faster.
- Continuous Testing and Evaluation Is Critical
Once you narrow down the problem, you take the necessary steps to resolve it. You must also ensure the problem does not recur by having the right strategies in place. It doesn't stop there, though.
You must keep testing the solutions and evaluate the results. It allows you to make the necessary adjustments. You can also nip any emerging issues that may arise due to the changes you are implementing.
Let's go back to our example above. Instituting an open-door policy can make management more accessible. It may need training, team-building initiatives, and staff feedback avenues. You must continuously test the efficacy of each tool you use. You get crucial data that allows for proper evaluation.
However, you could be facing a new challenge. There could be resentment from some of those used to having a lot of power. It will require you to apply RCA to tackle the new issues.
RCA provides a powerful tool for tackling business problems. By going right to the underlying issues, you do not waste time-fighting fires. Start by defining the problem and then looking at all the scenarios that could be contributing. It requires being honest and patient about finding workable solutions.