Root cause analysis (RCA) derives its benefit from observable evidence, credible data, and established practices. Ideally, a diverse team of knowledge experts assembles to investigate failure data, assess probable causes, and ultimately determine the underlining root cause of the failure event. By following a standardized process, RCA teams efficiently establish corrective action(s).

While teams often conduct RCAs to determine root causes and propose corrective solutions, frequently there is little follow-up to measure if the corrective action(s) results in measurable improvements – or if they have even been implemented at all. It is this final stage of root cause analysis, “closing the loop”, which determines the overall effectiveness of an investigation and prevents the failure from repeating.

Focus on the solution

During a root cause analysis, it is important not to miss the forest from the trees. Investigating and uncovering the cause for failure is critical, but the eventual goal is not just to find out why an unexpected event happened, but to prevent it from reoccurring. The primary focus should always be on implementing and measuring the success of the corrective solution decided upon during the root cause analysis investigation. Remember, be sure any solution is feasible and can be implemented effectively – be realistic and assign action items.

Unfortunately, a common pitfall in RCA is a lack of follow up on the preventive action(s) implemented to tackle the root cause. Measuring the success of the corrective action(s) occurs after the RCA team has disbanded, which lends itself to verification slipping through the cracks. Teams are eager to find solutions but struggle with taking ownership of verifying if the original problem persists following initial root cause analysis steps.

Creating a verification plan

The follow-up phase is when you verify if the corrective action(s) agreed upon during the RCA successfully resolves the issue. During the investigation, the RCA team should outline a verification plan. The plan should document how and when implemented solutions are measured for mitigating effectiveness. This can include:

  1. Before concluding the RCA, schedule a follow up meeting with the team either a few weeks or few months after implementation
  2. Set action items that are SMART – Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound
  3. Capture meeting minutes and put a specific team member to each action item to encourage ownership
  4. Auditing corrective action(s) to verify they are properly implemented and working as planned
  5. Evaluating data to confirm corrective/preventive effectiveness
  6. Monitoring for the reappearance of the failure event and determining why the implemented solution(s) were not effective. Note any new occurrences and examine the symptoms for similarities

Once countermeasures are in place for a few weeks, it is best practice to re-assemble the RCA team to evaluate the effectiveness of the implemented solutions. The RCA team has the most knowledge of the initial incident and thus will be the most qualified to judge the success of the implementation.

It is critical to standardize the process for overall consistency. If the verification process is dependent on specific individuals, it will not be sustained long-term. Build standard operating procedures outlining how and when to verify root cause analysis results. During verification, document findings for future reference. Review and include answers to:

  1. Has the failure event reoccurred?
  2. Is the solution effective?
  3. Has the implemented solution impacted other equipment or processes?

Follow up regularly to see how well corrective action(s) are working. Frequent assessments help identify new problems that could turn into future failures.

Conclusion

Standardizing your root cause analysis program, especially during the follow-up phase, determines the effectiveness of your efforts and the return on investment in the form of reduced failures or downtime. While focusing on finding the cause and uncovering the solution for failure is beneficial, the end goal should always be preventing a recurrence through successful solution implementation. Verifying the results of enacted changes provides hard metrics that can be tied to revenue, offering tangible benefits justifying your RCA efforts.

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