Best Practices: The soft side of Root Cause Analysis

Eliminate the risk of recurrence of an undesirable event by identifying root causes and taking corrective action


I will not focus on Root Cause Analysis (RCA) techniques in this article, but rather on the effectiveness of the training in RCA. While I am an educator, author and practitioner of RCA, there are many such people out there who are in the same business. While our means may be different, our ends should be the same; eliminate the risk of recurrence of an undesirable event by identifying root causes and taking corrective action!

Hypothetically, let’s say some form of RCA training has been conducted at a facility. Now what? It has been our experience that corporations tend to use training as managerial therapy. They send a person or group to training and then they have satisfied the training needs. At this point they are through with their obligations. The training investment turns out to be a waste of money and counterproductive to the morale of the workforce.

Managerial Responsibilities

1. There must be a purpose for training - Any training provided should be considered within the overall context of the organization. If I am going to provide customer service training, it should link to the corporate vision. If I am going to provide training in balance and alignment, it should fit into the overall preventive/predictive maintenance strategy. In other words, there should be a purpose and expectation for providing training.

2. There must be an expectation of returns on training - I rarely have found an organization that calculates a Return on Investment (ROI) for their training dollars. Why should training dollars be any different than an engineering project? I have also rarely seen management’s send letters to a student before they go to training outlining their expectations as a result of training. Is this unreasonable to expect?

I tend to find that most people that attend training see it as a burden, another thing on their plate that management is making them do. In an ideal environment, people would look forward to training as a means of making their work life easier and more efficient. The perception of “burden” comes from the fact that I know that when I get back to my facility, nothing is going to change in the environment. Therefore, I know that I will not be given the time to practice what I have learned and most likely, no one will be expecting it.

This type of thinking is what develops what I call “the donut crowd.” They come to training because they get break foods, maybe lunch and time off the job. They know that when they go back no one will care whether they use the learning or not. Is this the student’s fault?

3. Time must be given to practice the new learning - If the new training is viewed as an additional task, it is less likely to be implemented by the student. If management requires that the supervisors provide the students 10% of their week to demonstrate use of the new learning, then there is an incentive to be successful. This is a managerial task because it requires involvement of directives to supervisors to reallocate work distributions.

4. Monthly reviews of progress should be implemented - Management should set aside a monthly meeting to hear updates on the current and proposed RCA’s progress (or digress). Management should be the mentor or sponsor of the initiative and therefore be interested in its bottom-line success. This will also set the expectations to the students that I must have something to report when I meet with the boss. This type of meeting will assist with tracking overall results versus expectations and the overall effectiveness of the effort.

5. Management education - One of the most common questions we hear in our training is, “Has my manager been through this training?” And unfortunately, the answer is usually NO. How can someone support something that they do not understand? Many managers feel that if they send people to a course on RCA that the student will be an expert investigator leaving the classroom and that they can produce accurate results in a matter of hours or days.

The fact of the matter is that this is the furthest thing from the truth. They will require practice, like anything else, in order to become proficient. They will likely take longer to produce accurate results because they must validate each of their hypotheses. Management must realize that supporting such an effort requires knowledge on their part of what their people will have to endure to do the job right.

6. Management kick-off of classes - Though management may not realize it, their presence does indicate value. Conversely, their lack of presence indicates lack of value. It will only take about ten minutes, but its effects will be lasting. Managers charged with supporting such an effort should kick-off each RCA class that their people attend. The kick-off speech should state their support for the training, their knowledge of the course content, their expectations for results and their appreciation of the attendance and support of the students. This is very simple, yet it is still not the norm in our experience.

7. Providing resources to assist students - Conducting a proper RCA requires the utilization of resources that we may or may not have access to. It is management’s responsibility to provide the RCA students with access to validate sources within and outside the company. Validation sources might include labs (chemical and metallurgical), engineering disciplines, nondestructive testing techniques, and interviews with witnesses, etc. If the RCA is to be accurate, validations will be required to prove hypotheses as facts or not.

8. Getting recommendations approved - Once an RCA is completed, recommendations for corrective action will be the result. Management must review these recommendations quickly and approve or disapprove them. If approved, appropriate time lines must be set and monitored. If not approved, then immediate feedback should be provided to the originator as soon as possible and in a constructive manner. This way the next time a recommendation is submitted, those considerations will be taken into account. Bottom-line results can only be obtained if recommendations are permitted to be implemented.

9. Getting recommendations implemented - Just because a recommendation is approved does not necessarily mean that it will be implemented. Most computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) or work order systems carry a backlog of work to be executed. This backlog is generally work of a reactive nature.

A recommendation from a RCA is generally going to be viewed as proactive work and therefore a low priority in a reactive work order system. This means that solid and approved recommendations may sit on the back burner indefinitely. Management must make accommodations in the work order system that allocates a certain percentage of resources to handle the proactive work that comes into the system. Otherwise the training investment and the hard work of the students was all for nothing.

Robert J. Latino is CEO of Reliability Center, Inc. He has been published in numerous trade magazines on the topic of root cause analysis as well as a frequent speaker on the topic at trade shows and conferences. His most recent publication is titled "Root Cause Analysis - Improving Performance for Bottom Line Results" He can be contacted at (804) 458-0645 or blatino(at)

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