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Why do root cause analysis?

I'm often told "We fix the cause of any complaints or returns - isn't that the same thing?"  Unfortunately there is a dramatic difference between an immediate correction to a failed product or service and doing root cause analysis to help you make lasting corrective actions which will prevent recurrence.

Whether the failure is related to a product or service, fixing the surface cause of the individual occurrence (e.g., rework the part, replace the document, or call and clarify the miscommunication) may relieve the pressure temporarily, but it doesn’t really find out why it happened.  And the problem with quick fixes is they often turn out to be short-term, which leaves you open to repeat failures.

Consider the alternative.  If you spend the time to find out what within your current overall management system was the root cause of the issue, you can correct that weakness (in a specific procedure, or process) to ensure that the same type of problem does not recur - not just with that product but for any other customer or product.  How? By digging a little deeper.  Root cause analysis requires asking the question “why” at least 3 times. This helps you dig past the surface reason (and it’s associated quick fix) to the missing or unclear information within your QMS which led to one or more types of similar failure.

Data analysis can be a great help in this. Tracking internal rework, or product rejects provides trend information which can point to root cause.  In a service environment, consider tracking how many times you have to follow-up with a customer or supplier because you didn’t get or give complete information the first time.

Quick fixes may seem harmless, especially if the boss or the customer doesn’t see them, but they eat away at precious time, efficiency, and often materials.  Next time you want to save any of those, consider implementing a habit of root cause analysis.


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