Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a critical skill to be taught and facilitated within organisations in order to minimise risk and improve efficiency.

It is no longer good enough for organisations to respond to problems when they arise. National standards in Australia* require the identification and prevention of root causes. Using the weed metaphor, the entire root system of the weed needs to be unearthed to stop the problem from reoccurring.

This article provides some suggestions for those who are implementing RCA initiatives.

Taking a multi-faceted approach to problem solving

Problems are by their nature multi-faceted and therefore problem solving initiatives need to be multi-faceted too. If problems are viewed from only one perspective, this provides only a slim snapshot of the issue. Information on a problem may be available from a variety of different sources (eg. contact centre, social media, complaints data, customer focus groups, over the counter) thus complicating the situation. The RCA process lends itself perfectly to working “across silos” within the organisation and the RCA team should comprise people from different parts of the organisation that are involved in, know about or are impacted by the problem. In the same way that issues don’t fit neatly into silos, the RCA process must extract and utilise people from within those silos to participate in problem solving.  Assisted by the unique composition of the RCA team and with careful facilitation, the problem solving focus can move towards achieving lasting outcomes for the organisation as a whole.

Reframing towards solutions

After careful analysis of the problem, moving the attention towards the solution is the right strategy.  Keeping a spotlight on solutions provides the team with a positive framework for option generation. This is not to suggest that the forensic analysis of root causes that is an essential part of the RCA process can be dispensed with, but merely that there should simultaneously be a healthy focus on finding the right range of solutions. As we know, solutions need to address the root underlying causes (not the presenting symptoms) of the problem.  Accordingly, the best solutions come from a considered understanding of the true root causes of the problem.

In practice, reframing towards solutions might happen in a number of ways. For example, the title of the RCA project could reference “solution building” rather than “problem solving” and invitations to participate in the RCA process could emphasize “option generation” rather than “problem investigation.” It goes without saying that language which suggests blame or retribution is to be avoided and this can be as easy as reframing investigations away from “who is responsible” to “what happened?” Instead of labeling a problem as “a customer service problem” it’s quite possibly a problem for the whole organisation.

The benefits of solution focused reframing are obvious. Participants are more engaged in a process that emphasizes solution finding and more comfortable in a process that is less about blame and more about solutions. A further critical benefit is that from the customer’s perspective, the organisation is seen to be working to prevent the problem from re-occurring, rather than focusing on blame and retribution.

Reporting on the reason, not just the complaint

When it comes to complaints, the Standards require logging of data about the complaint and the collation of statistics. Many organisations are now starting to record not just a description of the type of complaint (eg billing or customer service) but also the reason for the complaint. The underlying reason (or reasons) for the complaint may not be apparent at first instance, so commonly organisations allow for upfront and quick classification of the type of complaint (eg billing or customer service) with data being input later (perhaps following investigation) on the root causes.

“When deciding what sort of information to log, the question to ask is “what information do we need in order to fix the problem for good?”

In summary, designing your complaints classification and reporting system from an RCA perspective will enable organisations to capture data on the root causes of complaints. Careful analysis of this data will assist organisations to improve long term effectiveness and efficiency of business processes.


* AS ISO 10,002 Guidelines for Complaint Handling in Organisations and The Institute of Internal Auditors Practice Advisor 2320-2:Root Cause Analysis