What Methods are Available?
Every consultant with a business card these days has a Root Cause Analysis process that they would like to offer your organization. And there is some value in all of them , no doubt. With over thirty years of Root Cause Analysis focus, we would like to provide you some way to view, evaluate, and navigate through the sea of RCA options that are marketed today. There are three basic categories of RCA approaches available. Some of the methods that exist perhaps belong partly in more than one group. Yet, virtually all processes that you will find through your evaluation will fall squarely within one of the below categories. REASON represents the pioneer and standard bearer for the third type of RCA solution available.
- Modeling/brainstorming tools: These are tools (either software or manual) that at their core are methods and tools for depicting how the investigator thinks an event happened. These tools typically are high in documentation value, but low in investigative value as the tools rarely push the user outside of the box of his own skills, mind, and experience.These tools simply model the facts and issues as the user sees them. Some of these tools provide some loose philosophy for creatively thinking through the event and solutions (brainstorming).Typically a group is formed, ideas discussed, educated guesses and opinions are recorded, and a group consensus is created through a vote. With these methods, general industry charting and modeling tools often are customized with special shapes and templates to model events in this genre. The advantages of these tools are that they can be really fast, and brainstorming about solutions can be a profitable exercise. The negative aspect of these tools are that they are the least rigorous solution and virtually devoid of real investigation aspects. This is because brainstorming and modeling tools are intended to drive creatively thinking through issues, and modeling tools simply document things…neither of these activities lead users to conduct a serious investigation.
- RCA Tool Box Approaches:These approaches offer a number (some offer over a dozen) of independent analysis methods (change analysis, barrier analysis, causal factor charting…etc) that are to be used in some combination that a user in the field must determine (pre-decide).These ‘grab-bag’ compilations of old (RCA) analysis approaches are often bundled together and marketed under a single branded name as if they were ‘a’ single process, when in fact their process represents many stitched together individual processes done in succession. Each process that they provide is of demonstrable value. For instance if you conduct a change analysis, the user walks away with good understanding of the changes involved in the event. But if that is all the user does he has a very one-dimensional view and understanding of the event. These ‘grab-bag’ approaches acknowledge this issue, and so they offer other methods like barrier analysis, casual factor charting, human performance analysis and up to a dozen other analysis methods. Not one of their tools in their ‘grab bag ‘ of analysis methods is sufficient enough to be used in all incident situations, and so their concept is that perhaps many different tools within their ‘tool box’ might be required to get a complete understanding of the event. In this “tool box’ approach, the user must learn and use several different tools and ways of thinking in order to succeed in producing a thorough investigation. Most often the tools that are provided contain pre-canned issues and template-type paths of inquiry to guide the user in his investigation. The advantage of these types of RCA solutions are that they lead the user into a more rigorous investigation process than do simple modeling tools, and they seem easy. The disadvantages of these fragmented systems are that the users are led by the process to explore pre-determined paths of thought, which often arrive at incomplete and pre-determined outcomes…and often not the right ones. Also, the user must learn many different investigation/analysis tools. Additionally, its most often the case that users simply pick a tool from within the ‘tool box’ that they like the most, and use it exclusively regardless of what kind of event it is. Doing this is to the detriment of the method’s stated overall concept that they should be using the most appropriate tool from the toolbox. Even when these approaches are perfectly deployed and practiced, users must learn many separate processes and ‘mini-methods’ for different kinds of events and situations, which makes learning the ‘tool-box-type’ methods difficult to deploy and use. In reality, these processes are never perfectly deployed and the process, due to its inexact ‘grab bag’ nature, allows users to create reports and RCA investigations that are merely reflections of what they think happened in an event.
- Causal-Focused RCA Tools: These tools are singularly focused on being efficient at uncovering a granular understanding of the step-by-step causation of an event (and its solutions).These methods are borne of a philosophy that the singular purpose of RCA is to understand not the million ways something could have happened, but rather the one way in which it did.The way that these methods attempt to guide the user is through a logic process that leads the user or team to model every cause and effect relationship within an incident. These approaches are singularly focused in creating a thorough, integrated, and detailed cause-and-effect model of each and every fact that played a causal role in the event. This creates a solid model for the user (or investigation team) to use. The users can then focus their knowledge and expertise between the points in time of each step of the model, in order to see how things could have been different in terms of new controls and solutions. REASON is the 30-year old pioneer and standard bearer for this approach. The advantages of these approaches include a more granular understanding of the event and a more focused correction action plan (not to mention a more complete discovery of all solution options).
Suggested Criteria for RCA Selection:
Decide what you want in an RCA tool?
Does the process itself cause the user to validate and challenge how he sees the facts coming together?
Does the process provide concise easy to understand documentation?
Is the tool easy to deploy?
Is the training for the system easy to deploy?
Are the tools and method user-friendly?