I think that because of the emphasis in the literature on “Root Cause” analysis some teams working on problem solving tend to believe that they are expected to identify a single root cause of the problem. I don’t believe that they should expect that outcome. Over the years I have trained and consulted with more than 100 teams undertaking root cause analysis, and it is a rare occasion in my experience in which a team will be able to identify a single cause of a problem. Indeed, if a team tells me they have managed to isolate a single root cause, I will question whether they have considered all of the possible causes in sufficient depth.
It is much more usual that the team will identify a number of possible causes of the problem. These causes may well have complex interactions, which will be difficult to disentangle, without substantial data gathering and mathematical analysis, most likely beyond many teams undertaking root cause analysis.
I believe that the best that can be expected is that the team will undertake a thorough analysis of all possible causes and identify a short list of causes, on which corrective actions can be taken. I don’t think that there is merit in teams at the point of identifying a short list, devoting time to try and find the single root cause of the problem, which I see teams attempting to do. If the team is successful in identifying the potential short list of causes, and corrective action is implemented on this short list, and is effective, then the problem will be eliminated. It is a key responsibility of the team to identify the causes on which action is to be taken.
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