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Root Cause Analysis, or RCA, is a Lean management principle that focuses on solving problems in a logical and methodical way. As the name suggests, it involves identifying the root cause of the problem, as this way it can be fully rectified rather than simply addressing its most obvious symptoms.
A key element of Root Cause Analysis is the creation of an effective solution that will remove the problem not only in the short-term but also far into the future. This is why RCA is also referred to as the “100-year fix”, as its purpose is to prevent the problem from reoccurring indefinitely.
There’s a very simple yet effective method used in Root Cause Analysis, which is called the Five Whys. This involves asking “why?” five times, with each instance digging deeper before arriving at the root cause. By following this process, you can really get to the nub of the problem and make an informed decision on how it should be fixed. Here’s an example:
Why is there a puddle of water on the floor?
The overhead pipe is leaking.
The water pressure is too high.
One of the control valves is faulty.
The control valves haven’t been tested recently.
This task isn’t on the regular maintenance schedule.
Solution: Add the testing of overhead pipe control valves to the regular maintenance schedule.
This is a great example of how the Five Whys uncover the source of a problem, as the puddle wasn’t caused by an employee knocking over a bucket of water, nor was the dripping pipe a result of damage or degradation. Instead, it’s a simple case of ensuring that the control valves are checked more often.
This technique can be applied to all kinds of issues, from slow production rates and high levels of waste to miscommunication and safety risks.
As with many Lean principles, Root Cause Analysis and the asking of the Five Whys should involve multiple people. When management teams talk to employees with practical experience, they gain more detailed insight into how everything works and how the smallest elements affect the bigger picture. Your employees are your greatest assets and the knowledge they hold both individually and collectively is a goldmine of insight that will help you to run a leaner, cleaner, greener and more profitable business.
The 5 Whys process is at the heart of an effective continuous improvement programme, as it encourages a proactive attitude and far greater levels of attention to detail. To remain consistent, here are five steps to integrating the Five Whys into your Root Cause Analysis and wider Lean management strategy:
Another important factor of Root Cause Analysis is to document it, as this way you have a clear description of what the problem was, why it occurred, and how it was solved. This information has many uses, as it gives instant access to your company’s problem-solving techniques, proves that an issue was addressed, provides an official report when an audit takes place, and offers valuable insight that will never be forgotten or lost.
When carrying out RCA, remember to always follow these steps:
The immediate and effective removal of a problem, no matter how small, will always come with multiple benefits. By carrying out Root Cause Analysis and asking the Five Whys, your business will experience the following:
The Lean and visual management specialists at Clarity are here to support your business through consultancy, training and bespoke visual management products. For additional guidance, take a look at our guide to the Root Cause analysis board and book one of our Practical Problem Solving workshops for your teams.
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