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5 Common Misconceptions About Root-Cause Analysis

Sure, you may think you know all there is to know about root-cause analysis and where it is used within your organization, but unless your first thought is “root-cause analysis is used everywhere,” then you might be surprised. Here are 5 of the most common misconceptions about root-cause analysis and its techniques.

1. You must be an expert to use root-cause analysis

Root-cause analysis is a simple, commonsense set of processes anyone can use. Years of training, specialist certifications or technical skills aren’t necessary – effective root-cause analysis has two requirements: A sense of curiosity to understand how and why systems, processes, etc. work and an open mind to acknowledge reality may not always be what it appears.

Root-cause analysis is a skill hard-wired into the human brain. Our minds are designed to capture, organize and process information about our environments and help us determine how best to respond to a situation to achieve a desired outcome. That’s essentially a total summation of root-cause analysis – looking at a situation, evaluating its available information and using analysis to make decisions about how best to respond. Granted, it can be much more sophisticated, but everyone can grasp and use the basics of root-cause analysis.

2. Root cause analysis requires much time and data

This may be true depending on the complexity of the problem or situation you are trying to analyze. Often, root-cause analysis is much simpler than it seems. While there are some complex problems that require a large amount of data and considerable time to analyze, 95% of the problems you will analyze are quite simple and you probably already know or have access to the data you need to resolve them.

3. The 5-Why’s technique is only needed for complex problems

The “5-Why’s” technique is one of the most common and simple techniques used in root-cause analysis.  It assumes the reported problem is actually just a symptom and the underlying cause can be found by exploring why the reported problem is occurring. Complex problems often have multiple layers of cause-and-effect relationships, so discovering five layers of causes is often needed to understand the true root cause and identify an effective corrective action. The goal isn’t to “go through the motions” of five levels of analysis; it is to find an underlying cause that makes sense and is actionable. The 5-why’s is a great technique to help you separate causes from symptoms and can be used on problems large and small.

4. I can’t do root-cause analysis; I don’t have a certification

A problem-solving certification is a valuable professional designation to have in many companies. It demonstrates a level of training and experience in facilitating problem-solving processes. It doesn’t mean you can’t do the job, however, if you aren’t certified (the certification police won’t come arrest you).  Problem solving and root-cause analysis are activities everyone can do, and already do every day! Certification is just a way to demonstrate your capability to others and develop credibility with them.

5. Managers don’t need to understand how to do root-cause analysis

Managers must understand root-cause analysis more than others since they are responsible for all the activities and issues within their organizations. Root-cause analysis techniques can help managers understand how to interpret their team’s performance and determine how to improve it. Without root-cause analysis, managers often respond to symptoms and in ways that seem erratic to employees. Through thoughtful analysis of a situation to understand the true cause, impact and implications, managers can project themselves as competent rational leaders of their organizations.

Kepner-Tregoe has been an industry leader in problem-solving techniques, training and consulting for more than 60 years. Companies large and small in all industries use KT methods to improve employee productivity, build better products and solve some very big operational problems.

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