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.Root cause analysis

RATIO Root Cause Analysis methodolgy

CoThink's convergent approach to formal root cause analysis can be broken down into basic three steps.

  1. Use the Event Map tool to assess, clarify and communicate the entire context of the selected problem situation.
  2. If the Event Map highlights any unknown cause that must be identified and treated, use the 5 Step Problem Analysis tool to identify the most probable cause.
  1. If no possible causes are readily identified in the previous step or if there are too many possible causes, use Characteristics and Changes to either identify potential causes or very quickly narrow down the number of possible causes.

Let’s now look at each of these steps in a little more detail.

1. The CoThink Event Map

The initial purpose of the Event Map is to provide a factual synthesis of all the information available about a given problem situation and to identify areas where more information is necessary.

Thanks to the conventions employed: use of specific shapes, colours and precise syntax to present different types of information..., the final result is a document which greatly enhances any organisation’s ability to understand and communicate the issues driving any type of problem situation.

You can download a real life example by clicking on the following link : High speed bottling line case study

Once the entire context of the problem situation has been established, the Event Map can be then be used to efficiently identify possible corrective actions, highlight selected corrective actions and monitor implementation. In many problem situations, the Event Map tool will provide all the insights necessary to understand the root causes of a given problem situation but sometimes  there will be unknown causes that must be identified. For this, CoThink uses the 5 Step Problem Analysis tool, an evolved version of the “Is – Is Not Analysis” methodology. For a rapid overview of this methodology, see the video below.

2. The CoThink 5 Step Problem Analysis process

In root cause analysis as elsewhere, when there are no boundaries or limits to the field of investigation, it is very easy to lose focus and waste considerable time and energy researching causes that will prove to be dead ends.  For example, this is one of the major weaknesses of the much used and highly divergent Ishikawa diagram methodology. Against this, by forcing you to think about the limits of what a problem “Is Not”  from the outset,  IS – IS NOT analysis  allows you to immediately evacuate issues that are not related to the problem, create focus and narrow down the range of possible causes. Thus, by the time you have filled in the problem specification presented in step 2 of the 5 step problem analysis in the video above, the list of plausible possible causes will be much shorter than what you will typically get from any sort of open brainstorming session.

Then, when each remaining possible cause is cross-checked against the answers to each pair of IS – IS NOT questions in the problem specification, it takes only one negative answer to the question,  “If  (Cause X) is the cause of the problem, how does it explain both the “IS” and “IS NOT” information we have here ? “ to eliminate the Cause X in question from the list of possible causes. At the end of this cross-checking process, the possible cause which completely satisfies (no assumptions) the highest number of "Is - Is Not" pairings is logically considered to be the most probable root cause. 

Nevertheless, there will be times when the number of possible causes is so large that investigating each plausible cause thoroughly would still be a very time consuming exercise. There are even cases where there is no obvious possible cause. For such cases, CoThink proposes one further tool in its convergent root cause analysis methodology, Characteristics and Changes.  

3. Characteristics and Changes

You start the C&C step by asking the following question for each Is – Is Not pairing listed in the problem specification:

 “What is characteristic, different, special, unique, distinctive, typical, about every “IS” in relation to the “IS NOT” ?”

For example, in an IT environment you could have a problem occurring which affects Server A but does not affect any of your other Servers ie. It "Is" Server A, it "Is Not" any other servers. When you ask the above question, the answer that emerges is Server A can’t read certain types of file. For each distinctive “Characteristic” identified above, you then ask the question:

“What has changed with regard to every characteristic?”

 In our IT example, you could imagine that there was an update to the operating system on Server A that wasn’t performed on the other servers. You then check on when this change took place and if the date is compatible with the date from which the problem appeared, you have at least one plausible possible cause that’s worth looking at further, starting by cross checking it against all the other information collected in the problem specification as discussed in Step 4 of the 5 step problem solving process.

At the end of the day, this is nothing more than a very structured and detailed version of something that most people do quite instinctively when a problem occurs, ie. ask themselves what the difference is between what is working and what is not working and what changes occured that could explain this difference. However, it is the structured approach that makes all the difference when it comes to complex problem solving.

In conclusion, as you can see from all of this, CoThink's rigorous, fact based approach, allows your problem solving teams to quickly converge on the most probable root causes of any problem:

  • Firstly by using an Event Map to establish a complete image of the problem situation before rushing off in any particular direction.
  • Secondly by using the 5 Step Problem Analysis process coupled with the Characteristics  & Changes tool to rapidly identify any unknown cause with a high degree of confidence.    

To learn how to use these highly robust tools we propose two highly practise oriented training solutions:

  • A three to four day customized in house training session which is ideal for your Facilitators and other people who play a leading role in your problem solving activities.
  • A complete range of online problem solving training programmes  for all the other people potentially involved, notably the people who are in direct contact with the problems  who are so vital to getting the information requires to understand and resolve them.

The online training courses are also a very practical way to quickly evaluate our approach...

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