Root Cause Analysis

Topics: Causality, Root cause analysis, Problem solving Pages: 21 (7324 words) Published: August 26, 2011
Root Cause Analysis: A Framework for Tool Selection
© 2005, ASQ

This article provides a framework for analyzing the performance of three popular root cause analysis tools: the cause-and-effect diagram, the interrelationship diagram, and the current reality tree. The literature confirmed that these tools have the capacity to find root causes with varying degrees of accuracy and quality. The literature, however, lacks a means for selecting the appropriate root cause analysis tool based upon objective performance criteria. Some of the important performance characteristics of root cause analysis tools include the ability to find root causes, causal interdependencies, factor relationships, and cause categories. Root cause analysis tools must also promote focus, stimulate discussion, be readable when complete, and have mechanisms for evaluating the integrity of group findings. This analysis found that each tool has advantages and disadvantages, with varying levels of causal yield and selected causal factor integrity. This framework provides decision makers with the knowledge of root cause analysis performance characteristics so they can better understand the underlying assumptions of a recommended solution. Key words: collaboration, decision making, problem solving, quality methods

Beneath every problem is a cause for that problem. In order to solve a problem one must identify the cause of the problem and take steps to eliminate the cause. If the root cause of a problem is not identified, then one is merely addressing the symptoms and the problem will continue to exist. For this reason, identifying and eliminating root causes of problems is of utmost importance (Andersen and Fagerhaug 2000; Dew 1991; Sproull 2001). Tools that help groups and individuals identify potential root causes of problems are known as root cause analysis tools. The cause-and-effect diagram (CED), the interrelationship diagram (ID), and the current reality tree (CRT) are three root cause analysis tools frequently identified in the literature as viable mechanisms for solving problems and making decisions. The literature provides detailed descriptions, recommendations, and instructions for their construction and use. Furthermore, the literature is quite detailed in providing colorful and illustrative examples for each of the tools so they can be quickly learned and applied. In summary, the literature confirms that these three tools are capable of finding potential root causes. Conversely, although there is much information about the individual attributes of these root cause analysis tools, there is little information regarding the performance of these tools relative to each other. Thus, problem solvers and decision makers are likely to select a tool based on convenience rather than on its actual performance characteristics. Thus, the purpose of this article is to explore and synthesize the current literature for a head-to-head performance analysis of the CED, ID, and CRT. The intent is to provide problem solvers with a mechanism that can be used to select the appropriate root cause analysis tool for the specific problem.

34 QMJ VOL. 12, NO. 4/© 2005, ASQ

Root Cause Analysis: A Framework for Tool Selection
The first section of this article presents an overview and a background of the CED, ID, and CRT. For each tool, there is a brief history, a presentation of various construction techniques, and a summary of the tool’s advantages and disadvantages. The second section reviews published articles that compare these tools. The third section analyzes the literature and provides a conceptual framework with a head-to-head comparison for problem-solving practitioners and decision makers. The final section concludes with implications and recommendations for management. Figure 1 Steps in building a cause-and-effect diagram.

Characteristic or effect A. Write the characteristic to be improved. Cause...

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Root Cause Analysis: A Framework for Tool Selection
Doggett, A. M. 2004. A statistical comparison of three root cause analysis tools. Journal of Industrial Technology 20, no. 2. Fredendall, L. D., J. W. Patterson, C. Lenhartz, and B. C. Mitchell. 2002. What should be changed? Quality Progress 35, no. 1:50-59. Gattiker, T. F., and L. H. Boyd. 1999. A cause-and-effect approach to analyzing continuous improvement at an electronics manufacturing facility. Production and Inventory Management Journal 40 no. 2:26-31. Goldratt, E. M. 1990. What is this thing called theory of constraints and how should it be implemented? New York: North River Press. Goldratt, E. M. 1994. It’s not luck. Great Barrington, Mass.: North River Press. Ishikawa, K. 1982. Guide to quality control, second edition. Tokyo: Asian Productivity Organization. Khaimovich, L. 1999. Toward a truly dynamic theory of problemsolving group effectiveness: Cognitive and emotional processes during the root cause analysis performed by a business process re-engineering team. Ph.D. diss., University of Pittsburgh. Abstract in Dissertation Abstracts International 60:04B: 1915. Lepore, D., and O. Cohen. 1999. Deming and Goldratt: The theory of constraints and the system of profound knowledge. Great Barrington, Mass.: North River Press. Mizuno, S., ed. 1988. Management for quality improvement: The seven new QC tools. Cambridge: Productivity Press. Moran, J. W., R. P. Talbot, and R. M. Benson. 1990. A guide to graphical problem-solving processes. Milwaukee: ASQ Quality Press. Pasquarella, M., B. Mitchell, and K. Suerken. 1997. A comparison on thinking processes and total quality management tools. 1997 APICS constraints management proceedings: Make common sense a common practice. Falls Church, Va.: APICS. Scheinkopf, L. J. 1999. Thinking for a change: Putting the TOC thinking processes to use. Boca Raton, Fla.: St. Lucie Press. Scholtes, P. 1988. The team handbook: How to use teams to improve quality. Madison, Wis.: Joiner. Schragenheim, E. 1998. Management dilemmas: The theory of constraints approach to problem identification and solutions. Boca Raton, Fla.: St. Lucie Press. Smith, D. 2000. The measurement nightmare: How the theory of constraints can resolve conflicting strategies, policies, and measures. Boca Raton, Fla.: St. Lucie Press. Sproull, B. 2001. Process problem solving: A guide for maintenance and operations teams. Portland: Productivity Press. Wilson, P. F., L. D. Dell, and G. F. Anderson. 1993. Root cause analysis: A tool for total quality management. Milwaukee: ASQ Quality Press.
BIOGRAPHY Mark Doggett is the chair of the Department of Industrial Technology at Humboldt State University. He is currently working to revitalize the study of technology on his campus and improve the technological literacy of the local community. His interests are quality management practices, lean manufacturing, theory of constraints, and systems thinking. He has also performed research in various decision-making and problem-solving strategies used by students, managers, and policy makers. His areas of expertise include leadership, process management, and manufacturing technology with more than 20 years of experience in business and industr y. Doggett received his doctorate at Colorado State University in interdisciplinary studies and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Industrial Technology. He can be reached by e-mail at 45
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