Why is it that some of our best-laid plans don’t work out the way they’re supposed to? No matter how hard we try, some problems seem insurmountable.  

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a helpful tool in our problem-solving challenges. Root cause analysis methods involve identifying the root of a problem to arrive at a solution. It helps us dig deeper into the origin of a problem. Additionally, it can help us identify patterns that are inefficient. Organizations deploy several types of root cause analysis methods to prevent unnecessary business interruptions, regulations, or fines.

Root Cause Analysis Methods

The two most popular root cause analysis methods that can help eliminate underlying obstacles are:

  1. The 5 Whys Method

For effective root cause analysis, 5 Whys is one of the most preferred root cause analysis methods. The technique helps you get to the bottom of the problem. Every ‘why’ is followed up by more ‘whys’, allowing one to unravel the layers and access more information. Let’s look at these root cause examples to better understand the 5 Whys technique:

A company launches a new marketing initiative to promote its new product. But the new marketing strategy fails to attract customers. By asking the 5 Whys, you can get to the bottom of the problem.

  • The first why:

Why did the new marketing initiative fail? Because the team could not meet their deadlines.

  • The second why: 

Why did the team member fail to meet their deadlines? Because nobody was tracking individual and overall progress.

  • The third why: 

Why did nobody track the progress of the initiative? Because nobody collaborated or discussed their respective milestones.

  • The fourth why:

Why did nobody collaborate and communicate individual progress? Because there was no opportunity for them to sit and brainstorm together.

  • The fifth why: 

Why were there no group brainstorming sessions? Because the team leader believed that group sessions were a futile activity.

From the above root cause analysis 5 whys example, it’s clear that the team leader should have conducted brainstorming sessions for the marketing team. These root cause analysis examples go a long way in identifying underlying causes.  

Harappa Education’s Creating Solutions course will teach you how to effectively analyze and get to the bottom of workplace problems through root cause analysis. The 5 Whys model, in particular, will help you get to the root cause of problems by following a chain of “why” questions. 

  1. The Fishbone Diagram Method

The root cause analysis fishbone diagram is another popular and effective technique for problem-solving. It’ll encourage you to visualize your problems by helping you draw a mental map of cause-and-effect. It lets you map out multiple branching paths that’ll lead to potential causes.

The fishbone diagram is also called the Ishikawa diagram, after the Japanese organizational theorist Kaoru Ishikawa. The diagram is named so because it resembles a fish’s skeleton. The process is kicked-off by placing the major challenge at the center. So, the issue to be addressed becomes the spine of the fish’s skeleton. Other causes and sub-causes branch out from the main spine or problem. By raising questions at each level of the branch, you get closer to the root cause.

Let’s take the following root cause analysis examples to understand the fishbone technique clearly:

  • An organization is lagging in productivity and finding it difficult to meet its monthly targets. A root cause analysis fishbone structure will help you categorize your problem under different heads like ‘people’ or ‘environment’. You can further branch out the underlying factors affecting the ‘people’ category into ‘leadership’, ‘teamwork’, and ‘training’. You can work towards the areas that need improvement.

  • The rules of a fishbone diagram can also be applied in personal life. Imagine trying to meet your friends at a pub just after the lockdown has been lifted in your city but you’re unable to. You can classify the problems into ‘internal’ and ‘external’ categories. Underlying factors that can be included in the external category are ‘time’, ‘location’, and ‘safety’.

Root Cause Analysis Steps

The root cause analysis methods involve five steps. These are:

  1. Define The Problem:

It involves finding out what exactly is happening and what the specific indicators of the problem are.

  1. Collect Data: 

If you can understand how long the problem has lasted or what the impact of the problem has been, it can maximize the effectiveness of root cause analysis. 

  1. Identify Potential Causal Factors: 

Understanding the sequence of events that has led to the final event helps to study potential factors that allowed the problems to occur.

  1. Identify Root Cause Technique:

In this step, you try to find out why the causal factors exist. You may want to use root cause analysis 5 Whys or the fishbone diagram to discover the root cause.

  1. Recommend Solutions:

If you can use your knowledge to prevent mistakes from repeating in the future, you can mitigate risks and arrive at efficient solutions.

Remember, running away from any problem only increases the distance from the solution. The easiest way to escape from the problem is to solve it. So face your problems head-on and get to their root. Be a problem-solver and stand out at your workplace!


Explore topics such as Root Cause Analysis, 5 Whys Analysis & Pareto Analysis from our Harappa Diaries blog section and develop your skills.

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