Do you often find that you are faced with a problem that seems unsolvable? In that case, you’re not alone.

When we don’t get the desired outputs or results from a business plan, we’re quick to point fingers. Sometimes, we blame the plan and adopt a new strategy. However, problems persist. 

This is why it’s important to find the root cause of problem areas before jumping to half-baked conclusions. Let’s start by understanding the meaning of root cause analysis and learn different ways to avoid repetitive mistakes. 

Meaning Of Root Cause Analysis

To define root cause analysis, we must first understand the term ‘root cause’. A root cause is a basic or fundamental cause of something. It often needs to be permanently eliminated through improvement. Simply put, RCA is the core issue that sets the entire cause-and-effect in motion, thereby leading to problems further down the line.

RCA or Root Cause Analysis is an analytical tool, technique, or process used to get to the root cause of the problem. It’s a fundamental tool in the journey of continuous improvement. In itself, root analysis may not produce any solutions but by making it a part of larger problem-solving efforts, quality improvement can be achieved. 

Why Perform Root Cause Analysis?

Root analysis helps us look beyond the superficial cause-and-effect and takes us to the bottom of the failed systems or processes that caused issues in the first place. Unless we determine the real root of any problem, the problem is likely to repeat itself.  The process of root cause analysis comes with certain end goals and benefits:

  • The first goal of root analysis is to discover the core issue or the root of a problem or event

  • The second goal is to understand how to fix the underlying issues and learn from mistakes

  • The third goal is to apply our learnings so that the patterns can be systematically used to prevent future issues

Root analysis teaches us that identifying the core process or the system isn’t enough. Unless you actively deploy the learnings from the analysis, the situation may not improve. For example, if you hurt your knee during a soccer match, root cause analysis might suggest that the ligaments around your knee are weak. So, you may be advised to start wearing a knee-pad to minimize the risk of future injuries.

Principles Of Root Cause Analysis

There are a few core principles that can improve the quality of analysis and help to gain trust from your peers, coworkers, or clients. The principles that guide effective root cause analysis are:

  • Instead of focusing on the indicators, try and correct the root cause

  • Always address the surface-level signs/indicators for short-term remedies

  • It’s important to remember that there can be multiple root causes for the same situation

  • Instead of being critical about ‘who’ was responsible, try understanding ‘how’ and ‘why’ something happened

  • Never jump to hasty conclusions. Take your time and be methodical about finding sound cause-effect evidence to back up your root cause claims

  • Support your corrective course of action with ample information

  • Consider how to prevent or adopt the root cause to your advantage in the future

Tools Of Root Cause Analysis

Now that we’ve established how to apply the basics of root cause analysis, let’s find out how we can use them effectively. Organizations are encouraged by people with good problem-solving and decision-making capabilities to bring sound solutions to the table. 

Here are a few strategies and techniques to conduct effective RCA:

1. The Five Whys

One of the most common and effective ways of performing root cause analysis is the Five Whys analysis. You evaluate a problem by asking the question ‘why’ five times. It’ll help you identify which layer of the problem or situation needs to be revised, corrected, rebuilt, or rethought. The five whys serve as a way to steer away from assumptions. Choices or solutions become clearer after each ‘why’ question is asked. The answer to the last ‘why’ should ideally lead you to the root cause you need to address. 

2. Change/Event Analysis

Another handy technique of using the root analysis method is to study or analyze the changes that led to an event. This method is especially fruitful when there’s a large number of causes. Instead of looking at a specific instance, we step back and try to analyze situations over some time. 

The process of change/event analysis includes four essential stages:

  • Stage 1

List every potential cause that led to an event. Take into account the times when a change has occurred, for better or worse. For example, the last “Grand Sale” day at your company was a huge success. You may want to note down all the touchpoints with every major customer. 

  • Stage 2

Categorize each change or event by the amount of influence you had over it. It can be known or unknown, internal or external. For example, offering a heavy discount is an internal factor and the last day of the quarter can be an external factor.

  • Stage 3 

A significant chunk of the analysis happens in this stage. Every event is analyzed to figure out whether there was a correlating, unrelated or contributing factor. For example, a new idea can be a contributing factor but the end of the quarter is an example of an unrelated factor because it can’t be controlled.

  • Stage 4 

In this last stage, we can choose to replicate or remedy the root cause. For example, if new ideas and initiatives are boosting sales, then organizing brainstorming sessions may help. You can decide to replicate the root cause of success.

3. Fishbone Diagrams

The fishbone diagram, also known as the Ishikawa diagram, is a popular root cause analysis technique. It’s named so because it resembles a fish’s skeleton. Using it, you can draw a mental map that’ll help you identify the underlying factors. The diagrams typically start with the spine, i.e., the problem. Each bone branches out to include smaller bones, indicating several categories of causes and sub-causes. As each branch is analyzed, we dig deeper into possible causes. This is how we get closer to the main sources of the issue or problem at hand. For example, if your category is ‘people’, you may want to look at ‘leadership’, ‘training’, ‘staffing’. 

4. Pareto Analysis

The Pareto analysis is a well-defined root cause analysis tool. It takes a statistical approach to decision-making. It’s based on the principle that 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. This 80/20 rule simply means that 20% of the work creates 80% of the results. There is a risk of focussing too much on trivial problems in the process of reviewing or analyzing. We must focus our energies on the ‘vital few’ as opposed to the ‘trivial many’. For example, you may find that 20% of your female customers are the cause of 80% of your sales. However, it doesn’t mean that you focus all your marketing efforts only on your female customers.

5. Kepner Tregoe Method 

Also known as the KT Method, the Kepner Tregoe Method is a powerful problem-solving tool. Developed by two pioneers of rational decision-making, Charles Kepner and Benjamin Tregoe, this working method has been proven to produce results. Organizations often face the pressure of solving problems. There are many opinions on what the right approach to solving them should be. The KT method is a crucial analysis tool where the ‘problem’ is disconnected from the ‘solution’. It uses four rational processes to approach problems:

  • Situation Analysis

Clarifies what happened in the problem situation

  • Problem Analysis 

It answers ‘why it happened’, thereby identifying  the underlying cause

  • Decision Analysis

It tells us how to act, thereby determining decision-making criteria

  • Potential Problem Analysis 

It helps anticipate the results i.e., potential future problems or opportunities

Harappa’s Creating Solutions course is designed to help you get to the root cause of any problem. You’ll learn how to effectively analyze problems and ask the necessary questions to make sound decisions and judgments. The Synthesis Technique will help you examine results from your analysis—you can rely on this process to draw actionable insights. Be a meticulous problem-solver and stand out at work.


We use variations of root cause analysis in our daily lives. It can be best understood in the context of mental health. We get help by going to therapy because we want to resolve our unhealthy patterns and bring in fundamental changes to our behavior and thinking. Addressing the root cause of problems helps us lead healthier lifestyles in the long-run. This analogy is reflective of the fact that the root cause analysis can be a drawn-out but transformative process. So, don’t rush, analyze at your pace, and stay rooted!

Explore our Harappa Diaries section to know more about the topic related to the Solve habit such as Importance of Decision Making, Ethical Decision Making & FMEA in order to develop your problem-solving skills.

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