ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

January 1999

Emergency Quality Management

Mission Impossible: The Ultimate Facilitation Challenge

Do You Believe In Magic?

Remembering Root Cause Analysis

Conversations For A Change

by Peter Block

Fox Shows Employees It Has Heart
by Lynn L. Franzoi

Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Sites Unseen

The Quality Tool I Never Use

Book Review


Remembering Root Cause Analysis
Apply RCA Through 10 Easy Steps to Radically Improve Your Business

Want a test to see how long it’s been since you graduated from business school (or how much you studied when you were there in the first place)? Take this pop quiz:

Root Cause Analysis is:
A) A healthy growth rate based on training the upper levels of management and allowing time for trickle down before re-evaluating staffing
B) Problem solving
C) A really scary trip to the dentist

If you picked C, “A really scary trip to the dentist,” you’re lucky, because that’s wrong. Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is actually problem solving, and no one should be afraid of that. What you should be afraid of is not reviewing the principles of RCA.

RCA is a simple, no-nonsense solution to everyday mishaps that cost you money and productivity. There’s no need to dust off your textbooks. RCA specialists Steve Pollock and John Waters have done that for you and they’ve put a fresh face on a subject that’s been dormant too long.

“RCA is so simple and helpful, yet it’s almost forgotten today,” says Pollock, director of continuous improvement at Radio Sound in New Albany, Ind. “When I became interested in pursuing RCA about four years ago, I was shocked at the lack of information about the strategy. Do you know how many books there are on RCA? One. Published in 1993!” Pollock shakes his head, and you know the next words out of his mouth are going to be, “Something had to be done.”

The Benefits of RCA
Pollock and Waters took action and developed their own implementation strategy for RCA. “It’s important for any organization to identify the most obvious areas for continuous improvement and to take action,” says Pollock. “RCA is an organized method for identifying continuous improvement opportunities, and now more than ever, RCA can make a big impact on the company’s bottom line.”
Pollock is referring to the technologies now available for gathering and analyzing data. RCA seeks out “non-conformities”—extra expenses due to manufacturing mistakes, as an example—and relies on data collection to seek out those problems.

The advantages of RCA are cost reduction and improved efficiency plus other, less obvious benefits such as providing a method for helping internal and external customers by deflating tension and reducing feelings of helplessness in service personnel. Another plus is RCA focuses improvement efforts on prevention, not reaction.
“That’s empowering,” says Waters, a manager at Southern Graphic Systems in Louisville, Ky. “If you’re on the shop floor and you see the same mistakes over and over again, then you can be the solution.
When I was working on the floor at Southern Graphics’ cylinder division, I saw that we were making cylinders that were just a fraction too small about three times a year. That may not seem like much to you, but these are expensive cylinders that take a bite out of the budget when you have to replace the defective ones. Basically, it was an easy problem to fix—more precise measuring devices were available and I implemented the utilization of those.”

For RCA to work, employees need to be involved on all levels. Pollock couldn’t make RCA work without the understanding of and belief in the strategy by people like Waters. The two developed a step-by-step strategy for RCA that anyone can apply to his or her own company. When implementing the 10 steps of their RCA strategic plan, Pollock urges users to, “Make sure you keep it practical. That’s the underlying current in all of the steps.”

The 10 Steps of Root Cause Analysis
Step One:
Review ISO 9001, section 414.
This is an international standard for setting up a generic quality system applicable to any industry or organization. This ISO section outlines basic Root Cause Analysis procedure, although it doesn’t make the obvious connection between the two methodologies.
Step Two: Identify the root cause.
A root cause is a symptom’s silent partner. Say the symptom, also called a non-conformity, is the unbudgeted high cost of replacing three undersized cylinders a year. If the root cause is actually the imprecise measuring gauge used on the shop floor, you have to identify the gauge as the root cause. An investigation needs to take place. “But make sure this doesn’t turn into a witch hunt,” warns Waters. “What you need to do is make sure employees know you’re trying to fix the system, not affix blame. If you don’t show people that you’re trustworthy with this, if you don’t take the time to explain what exactly it is you’re trying to do, you aren’t going to get much assistance.”
Step Three: Identify a good method for looking for root causes.
Pollock and Waters use Pareto, fishbone, cause and effect diagrams, control charts and process capability studies. Once you begin doing RCA you’ll want to be well-versed in all these methods for looking for root causes.
Step Four: Understand the difference between preventive and corrective action.
Corrective action eliminates the root cause of the symptom; preventive action eliminates the potential for symptoms and root causes. “Few people take the steps to preventive action, and that’s something you need to facilitate,” says Pollock. “You have to get people to pursue prevention as part of the RCA strategy.”
Step Five: Use these three steps to form your own procedure and write it all down.
You have to get people to read your RCA procedure for it to really fly. “You want to give people a written set of instructions to follow,” Waters says. “Procedures show if you’re conforming to ISO, and if that’s your goal, you definitely need some proof of that. Plus, procedures standardize routine thinking for RCA and it helps reassure the customer. It says, ‘See, we really care about correcting and finding mistakes. We’re quality driven.’”
Step Six: Above all, make your RCA procedures practical.
They should be short and sweet, easy to read and easy to follow. Avoid a lot of tiresome rhetoric.
Step Seven: Determine when data will be created and how it will be used to prevent future potential problems.
This is where you utilize all the charts and analytical tools, especially for prevention. Require scheduled meetings to review the data and implement continuous improvement projects.
Step Eight: Establish a quick turnaround time for corrective action to be implemented.
If you discover a problem, but then take forever to solve it, you risk alienating potential proponents of RCA, and they might not be there to give honest input the next time.
Step Nine: Now your RCA plan is complete and written down.
As a final measure, compare it to ISO 414 standards and adjust to include anything you forgot.
Step 10: Take a step back.
Weigh the benefits of utilizing this plan and make sure they exceed the cost of RCA from an emotional and interpersonal perspective. “A general rule of thumb is if it’s a hassle, the improvement plan or idea won’t succeed,” says Pollock. “People have to feel free to challenge routine and challenge each other. That’s the real trick to RCA.”

January '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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