Root cause analysis

root cause analysis

A root cause analysis is a project management methodology that attempts to get to the root of a problem in order to eliminate it.

Even if the perfect design plan was realized and if it was executed in an exemplary manner, this would not eliminate all the risks that could arise from the execution of the project itself.

Plans are inevitably destined to change for one reason or another.

The activities for the risk reduction of the project

During the phases of a project, there are three main activities focused on reducing the risk of the project.

1. The first risk reduction activity occurs during project planning.

When a proactive risk assessment is conducted, the identified risks can be:

  • mitigated or avoided, for example, by modifying the project plan;
  • transferred, for example through an insurance;
  • or accepted, for example, by doing nothing.

2. The second activity is continuous risk assessment throughout the project.

3. The last risk reduction activity consists in collecting the “lessons learned” retrospectively, ie at the end of the project. This action will have the least impact on the current project, but will serve the benefit of others in the future.

However, due to unforeseen problems that occur during a project:

  • risk management is useless, as it has already been completed,
  • the lessons learned are too early, as they are conducted at the end of the project.

In this case then, the corrective action is a critical process that adresses the ad-hoc problems encountered during the projects.

Why is a Root cause analysis indispensable?

Unfortunately, the actions taken to solve a problem often concern only the problem itself, not its underlying causes.

Contingent situations related to the problem are tackled and the project’s resources are dedicated to compensating for it. In fact, however, real corrective actions can not be taken.
In other words, the causes of the problem remain unknown, which means that the problem could reoccur later in the project or during future projects.

It is precisely in these moments that the root cause analysis becomes necessary. As already explained, it is a project management methodology that tries to get to the root of a problem in order to eradicate it before it is born.

Once the root cause has been identified, this will help to eliminate and prevent problems that may occur in the future.

When performing a root cause analysis, we analyze the error of a product or process in order to determine exactly what went wrong.

Problem prevention is much less costly for an organization than solving a problem itself, and it performs problem solving activities considerably.

How is the root cause analysis performed?

Basically, a root cause analysis occurs when the need for a quality improvement project is presented.

This happens when there is a problem or a fault (causal factor) in the quality of a process or in the quality of a product.root cause analysis

When starting a root cause analysis (rca), it is important to get straight to the heart of the problem.

Here are the basic steps to be addressed:

  1. Define the problem: what happened, where and when it was identified, when it started and how much is significant?
  2. Understanding the process: what were the steps in the process that should have been carried out before the problem was discovered?
  3. Identify the possible causes: if things do not go as planned, which of the process steps could have caused the problem?
  4. Collect data: what information could indicate which of the possible causes actually occurred in order to create the problem?
  5. Analyze the data: which data indicate the possible causes that contributed or not?
  6. Identify possible solutions: what changes to project planning and execution processes could prevent these processes from failing in the future?
  7. Select solutions: which of the possible solutions identified is the most practicable?
  8. Implement solutions: plan and execute the selected solutions.
  9. Evaluate the effects: have the solutions been implemented and have they worked?
  10. Institutionalize the change: update the project management guidelines and tools in order to ensure that future projects follow the improved processes.

Steps 1 to 5 are generally performed cyclically, until the causes are found and proven.

Of course, it is not necessary to perform this level of investigation and action for every problem that occurs during a project.

Therefore, an important component of the corrective action process is risk assessment and agreement on a reasonable course of action. These are agreements that can also come during the work progress status meetings.

That is, for every problem that occurs, it is necessary to consider the relative entity and the probability as part of a risk assessment before confirming the need for a root cause analysis.

Other obstacles for project managers include:

  •  The tendency of an individual to try to investigate and solve the problem without help. A single individual will hardly know all the processes enough in order to be able to evaluate them effectively and without prejudice. Therefore, project managers must ensure that they involve more actors in the diagnosis of complex problems.
  • In the rush to solve problems, people make assumptions and jump to the causes or solutions without having the right data to support them. This leads to tampering with processes, which can cause further problems. Project managers must be sure that adequate information is available before deciding what actions to take.
  • Corrective action often has a negative connotation in organizations. However, many studies have shown that men and organizations learn more from their failures than from their successes. Corrective action must therefore be considered simply as a learning process.
  • Corrective action is seen as something added to “normal work” rather than as part of effective business management. In reality, however, it is an integral part of quality management.
  • Many organizations want to automatically assign the cause to an human error. The problem is that it is not enough to provide the identification of solutions, since the cause of such human error should be known. Many of the causes of human error are revealed in information, equipment and management processes deficiencies. Project managers should therefore focus on process failures rather than blaming people.


In conclusion, it will not always be necessary to use a root cause analysis to solve every problem in a project. But the problems that can not be solved or problems that are not familiar are the right ones for a root cause analysis.

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