RCA Success

An incident has occurred, and a Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is needed to find an effective solution. How do you ensure that the RCA delivers the best results – that is to say arriving quickly and accurately at the cause or causes of the problem?
At the start of any analysis, there are a number of simple things you can do to boost the likelihood of a successful outcome. These tips are not rocket science; yet they are important to get right.

Be prepared.

Make sure you do your homework before you start, and have everything ready. This includes:

  • The workspace – have large white boards and lots of them. In the absence of whiteboards, use walls or windows with butchers paper. Stock up on markers and post-in notes. In other words, make sure you’ve got plenty of room – and the tools – to write down all ideas coming from the group.
  • The information – collect all of the information available, and have someone assigned as custodian so you can call on it and don’t have to go looking for it.  Depending on the incident you are investigating, you should collect things like the maintenance history, reports, photos, design specs, eye witness statements and OEM recommendations.
  • The timeframe – stipulate clear timeframes for the RCA, including the start time, breaks and finish time.
  • The rules – set expectations around usage of mobile phones and email. It is also important to have rules around the discussion itself – such as “no put-downs”. In short, the less interruptions, the better. Encourage an “open” discussion and allow all information to be brought forward. Don’t argue about ownership of information – what matters is that it was brought to light. Focus on “why”, not “who”. This reduces the emotion in the room and minimises conflict or argument. If blame becomes a part of the RCA process then defensive attitudes will start to appear, and people get too afraid of the consequences to speak up and say what really happened.


Form your group.

For an RCA to be successful, you need the right people to be present for the investigation. In other words, people who have access to or knowledge of information relating to the problem. You may need to invite an independent “expert” to assist with your RCA.
Sometimes the people directly involved in an incident or accident may  be the “right” people to have in the room.  But if there are other agendas or emotions at play, then leave them out. The RCA team should be genuine seekers of effective solutions, who share a goal of preventing similar events happening again.

Be wary of inviting senior managers into the group – they could hinder open and truthful dialogue. It may be better to give senior managers a separate review and opportunity to challenge so that they stay engaged in the process and buy-in to the solution.
It’s also important to have the right number of people in the room. The “right” number is dependent upon the significance of the problem, but also upon the ability of the facilitator to handle the group. As a general rule, it is difficult to facilitate groups greater than 10. If the group size becomes too large, consider splitting the group and having two sessions.
Control the group.

This may prove difficult, yet the ability to control a group is an important skill to have. You should value all contributions from all group members. While people don’t necessarily have to agree with each other, it’s important to acknowledge that everyone is entitled to their opinion.
If there is any confusion about a person’s comment, ask them to explain it again. If there is still no agreement, then capture both sides of the story and let the evidence prove one or the other. Don’t tolerate an argument or a contest of wills – let the evidence determine the merit of following a particular cause path.

Use all of your non-verbal skills to assist you in controlling the group. Use direct eye contact and a hand gesture to indicate whom you wish to speak next. This lets everyone know who has the floor. When you shift your focus to someone else, in conjunction with the arm movement, you pass ownership of the right to speak to the new person.
Be the traffic cop. With a simple hand signal, you can control the person who is impatiently wanting to say something, by showing them an open palm that says “stop”. This will let the other person finish what they were saying.

Respect everyone’s right to be heard, and remember that everyone in the room has a reason for being there. Ensure they all have the opportunity to speak.
Use your body as a means of directing the flow of traffic. Turn your body to face someone in the group whom you wish to speak. When you couple this with strong eye contact and a hand signal toward them you are effectively giving control of the floor to them. The key here is that everyone else in the group sees these silent signals too. Don’t think you’re being rude – rather, you are showing control. And the better you can control the group, the more effective your investigation will be.
Keep the group on-task.
The facilitator’s job is to be direct and to ask specific questions to keep people focussed. If the focus strays, then it’s a good idea to go back through the chart – starting at the beginning – to get everyone back on track.

The facilitator should be the prime-mover during the RCA, constantly asking questions –  along the “caused by” or “why” lines – to maintain focus. These questions demand responses and keep everyone engaged, involved and on-task. Your questions will also prevent the group going off on tangents, which lead to almost anything being added to your cause and effect chart.
If someone is having a side conversation, then pose the next question to them. Put them in the hot-seat. If you do this consistently, you will demand their attention and also the group’s attention.

Being animated or dynamic when you facilitate is also a great way to maintain focus. Modulate your voice to keep people’s attention. Avoid a boring monotone. Remember, if the facilitator is quiet then it follows that the group is also quiet. This is not what you want.

Schedule regular breaks – a few minutes on the hour and 10 -15 mins after 2 hours. This will help to ensure that the energy levels in the room remain high and also allows people to check emails and phone messages. This is important in maintaining the focus of the group.
Follow the process.

Some people seem to have a natural affinity for facilitating investigations, but anyone can become adept and successful at it. The art of facilitation is a skill that can be learned through practice and reflection. A good facilitator knows he can walk into any situation and find a solution. This is a very powerful and rewarding skill for both the individual and the organisation.

As a facilitator, if you can follow these suggestions then the likelihood of a successful outcome from your investigations will increase.

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