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Root Cause Analysis – Mysteries and Reality

February 3, 2024

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a powerful problem-solving tool that engineers and professionals across various industries rely on. It involves identifying the underlying causes of a problem or failure, going beyond surface-level symptoms. RCA promotes innovative thinking and provides a structured approach to understanding complex systems and generating effective solutions. This article explores the concept of RCA, its application to different subjects and industries, and the step-by-step process of performing an RCA. By using RCA, professionals can uncover the root causes of issues, improve problem-solving capabilities, and drive continuous improvement in their organizations.

Root cause analysis - PRIZ Guru

What is RCA?

Several articles dedicated to RCA can be found on the PRIZ Guru blog. However, time is passing, technologies are evolving, problems are changing, and our understanding and approach to problem-solving are also evolving.

Problem-solving methods are constantly evolving, and we cannot solve current problems using approaches and examples from decades ago.

So, let’s start from the beginning. What is Root Cause Analysis (RCA)?

Several websites such as ThinkReliability, Asana, and IBM publish definitions and explanations of RCA. These explanations are very similar and can be summarized as follows: “Root Cause Commentary (RCA) is the process of identifying the underlying cause of a problem or failure.”

But do we need to find the root cause of the problem? Let me provide an example:

  • Sir, if you know where an item is, do you consider it lost?
  • Of course not.
  • Then, sir, your watch is not lost because you now know it is at the bottom of the Thames.

The root cause has been identified. So what? How does it help solve the problem of the lost watch?

What is the goal of RCA? Is it the root cause, the fundamental reason for the problem?

Definitely not! RCA is an excellent tool for promoting innovative thinking. It helps us understand the system and search for intelligent, innovative solutions.

Switch the paradigm: RCA is a tool for finding a solution rather than a cause for the problem. Instead of searching for a cause, focus on finding a solution.

RCA thinking is a tool for learning how the system operates and creating solutions to problems.

Root Cause is a parameter that, when changed, can solve the problem.

Root Cause Analysis Steps

Performing a Root Cause Analysis (RCA) involves using a structured approach to identify and address the underlying causes of a problem or issue. Here are the general steps to perform an RCA:

Create a project

  • Start by thinking about and deciding how you will work. Define the most suitable platform for project management that provides access to problem-solving and decision-making tools, proper documentation, and reports.
  • Form a working team. Effective communication among team members and quick access to all relevant data is crucial for efficient and practical work.

Create an overview of the project

Gather data and information relevant to the project. This may involve collecting incident reports and records, conducting interviews, and making observations. Make sure you have a thorough understanding of the problem.

Define the Problem and the Success Criteria

  • Describe the issue (failure) objectively, like how policemen describe the results of a car crash or crime event. Focus on what you see without including personal opinions.
  • Identify and explain the disadvantages of the issue and why it is detrimental. Explain why it is important to address the failure.
  • Clearly state the problem that needs to be solved. Remember that the failure indicates the existence of a problem. Do not attempt to fix the failure itself, as failures cannot be fixed or restored.

Build Cause & Effect Chain

  • Start thinking as an analyst, moving from a single event to multiple reasons. Any possible reasons should be taken into account. If you see someone leave his bicycle before the issue, consider it.
  • Create a Cause and Effect tree by determining the immediate or proximate causes of the problem. These are the events or factors that directly contributed to the issue. Ask, “Why did this happen?”
  • Keep in mind that the Cause and Effect Ramified Tree is an excellent tool to learn the system and everything around rather than to solve the problem.

A typical Cause and Effect Tree made on the PRIZ Platform is shown below

Cause and effect chain tree diagram for high product cost | PRIZ Guru

Dig deeper with “5 Whys”

  • Use the “5 Whys” technique to explore deeper causes. For each immediate cause identified in step 4, ask “Why?” repeatedly to trace the issue back to its root cause. Continue this process until you reach a fundamental, non-obvious cause – the logical end.
  • Do not limit your analysis to only 5 steps; it could be less or more depending on the necessity.
  • The end of the chain is a dead-end, known as the Fundamental Reason for the Problem (FRP). A dead-end can be easily identified – if a reason cannot be changed (for example, the density of Cu is higher than the density of Al), it means it is a dead-end – FRP.
  • Each step in the linear chain can be considered as an auxiliary reason for the problem (ARP) and accepted as a root cause that allows solving the current problem.

A typical 5+ Whys diagram created in the PRIZ Platform is shown below

5+ Whys analysis for high cost | PRIZ Guru

Rank the Generated Solutions and Solve the Problem

  • Each generated solution corresponds to a specific link in the chain. However, it is possible to solve the problem by eliminating any link in the chain.
  • Make a decision, implement the chosen solution, and resolve the problem.


  • RCA (Root Cause Analysis) is a creative thinking tool used to understand the system, define problems, and generate solutions.
  • Use RCA to generate solutions and ideas, rather than focusing solely on identifying the reasons for the problem.
  • RCA is a problem-solving process that involves the following steps:
    • Gather all relevant information.
    • Clearly state the problem that needs to be solved.
    • Conduct a Cause and Effect Chain (CEC) analysis to understand the system and the problem.
    • Perform 5+Whys analysis to generate ideas and innovative solutions.

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