Root Cause Analysis Approaches and Techniques

There are many methodologies, approaches, and techniques for conducting root cause analysis. A U.S. Department of Energy (DOE [2003]) guideline lists the following five:

  • Events and causal factor analysis — Widely used for major, single-event problems, such as a refinery explosion, this process uses evidence gathered quickly and methodically to establish a timeline for the activities leading up to the accident. Once the timeline has been established, the causal and contributing factors can be identified.
  • Change analysis — This approach is applicable to situations where a system’s performance has shifted significantly. It explores changes made in people, equipment, information, and more that may have contributed to the change in performance.
  • Barrier analysis — This technique focuses on what controls are in place in the process to either prevent or detect a problem, and which might have failed.
  • Management oversight and risk tree analysis — One aspect of this approach is the use of a tree diagram to look at what occurred and why it might have occurred.
  • Kepner-Tregoe Problem Solving and Decision Making — This model provides four distinct phases for resolving problems:
    • Situation analysis
    • Problem analysis
    • Solution analysis
    • Potential problem analysis

    There are overlaps among these five approaches. For a model incorporating aspects of each, see Root Cause Analysis: The Core of Problem Solving and Corrective Action.

    The book focuses on helping problem solvers differentiate among the generic steps involved in (1) identifying a problem, (2) performing a diagnosis, (3) selecting and implementing solutions, and (4) leveraging and sustaining results.

    Root Cause Analysis

    Excerpted from Root Cause Analysis: The Core of Problem Solving and Corrective Action, pages 4–5.

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Organization-Wide Approaches