Root Cause Analysis

Root Cause Analysis, (sometimes referred to as RCA,) is a systematic method of problem-solving. It helps teams identify the driving forces behind an issue. This means that teams can mitigate these root causes in the future, minimizing the chances that a problem happens again. It also means that, if your team is growing, new team members can get insight into why you approach things in a particular way.

Why Root Cause Analysis Makes Your Team Stronger

Let’s imagine you’re building a software product. What do you do when a customer has difficulty logging in? One easy path might be to have the person sign up for a new account. And yet, that solution fails to address whatever caused the login issues in the first place, ie the root causes. Too often, we ignore the root causes of a business problem. We focus on the symptoms of the problem. Or we take the easy way out and ignore the issue altogether, coming up with quick workarounds.

Instead, by conducting a systematic analysis of the problem, you can better identify the root causes. Conducting a root cause analysis means looking for evidence or data about why something happened, rather than speculating. By identifying the true source of the problem, your team will better understand how and why something happened. The team will grow stronger by taking preventative measures to ensure problems don’t recur.

The root cause analysis mindset also helps your team become more proactive. Rather than constantly focusing on the most recent fire that needs to be put out, your team will start anticipating fires before they happen. More importantly, they’ll get better at taking action to prevent these fires from starting.

Root Cause Analysis Methodologies

There are many different approaches to conducting a root cause analysis, but some common threads run through all of them. Popular RCA methodologies often include the following attributes:

  • A thorough understanding of the driving forces behind a problem: this is often accomplished by asking “why” multiple times to dig below the surface of an issue. When you believe you’ve found a cause, continue to question what circumstances led to that cause. Repeat with each layer you uncover, pushing the team to dig deeper.
  • Map of the relationships between causes: You may find that there is more than just one root cause. If you uncover multiple root causes, spend time identifying whether there are relationships between them. Also spend time distinguishing between root causes and contributing factors, (ie those aspects that may have made the problem worse but didn’t actually cause the problem.)
  • Evidence: A good root cause analysis will include data. This means gathering evidence to show the impact of possible root causes. For instance, in our example above, perhaps you’re able to find data showing that login issues occur twice as frequently on days when new features are released. This is important evidence to gather, document, and share.
  • Map of the timeline:  Map every moment and factor that led up to the issue. When did the problem begin? When did the root causes first appear? Which conditions may have contributed to the problem (or allowed it to occur)? Were there opportunities to mitigate the problem along the way? Were there any preventative actions that should have been taken but were not?

How to Use Root Cause Analysis

One of the most important first steps is managing team expectations. Encourage them to view it as a means of getting stronger, rather than feeling threatened. The goal here isn’t to point fingers or figure out who deserves blame. Instead, the goal is to identify risks, in order to avoid them.

Ideally, give your team the opportunity to practice using the RCA  method with a made-up example or even using something that happened to your company in the distant past. Use this template to map out all of the details related to the problem.

Next time a problem arises, use the RCA approach to identify the root causes of the issue. Map out how you can eliminate or avoid those root causes in the future. Document your evidence and conclusions, and store this knowledge in a central place like Tettra. This documentation will help you avoid the root causes and will make it easier for new members of the team to understand why you do things in the way you do.