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Root Cause Analysis

Effective Problem Solving Through Lean Tools

lean tools

When a problem or issue surfaces in quality management the set of tools and techniques used to get to the bottom of it are essentially part of Root Cause Analysis (RCA). Although some people prefer to take a freestyle approach to problem-solving, RCA’s tools make the whole endeavour more structured and methodical. This has been shown to lead to excellent results.

Some of the tools allow you to look past what is obvious to uncover the underlying cause. Others allow you to visualize the problem so you can look at it from a different perspective. And each tool is designed to help you see the real, hidden issue, which will prevent the problem or issue from ever happening again once fixed.

This saves the team a lot of time. Constantly working on surface problems is nothing more than patchwork. If the main cause isn’t fixed, the problem becomes recurring – sometimes it gets worse with each reoccurrence. Furthermore, it prevents the team from focusing on the wrong cause or something that doesn’t need to be fixed at all.

When it comes to RCA, there are many tools that teams can use. Here are the most common ones.

Fishbone Diagram

When the problem being faced is complex in nature, the fishbone diagram is used. It allows the team to categorize possible causes into homogeneous groups and sub-groups. It is especially handy to use in the event the root cause is hidden under various surface problems. Another name for the diagram is the cause-and-effect diagram.

5 Whys

The 5 Whys puts you in the shoes of a detective trying to uncover the root cause of a problem. There’s nothing complicated about it either since all you have to do is ask the question “Why?” five times – as a rule of thumb, not a hard rule – until the underlying cause is revealed. It works best on rudimentary issues, so it might not be the best option if there is a need for quantitative analysis.

Pareto Chart

Causes are 20% responsible for the effects seen 80% of the time. This is the underlying principle behind the Pareto Chart. This visualization tool provides a snapshot of common errors so they can be seen from a glance. It shows their causes in descending order, helping you tackle them in order of relevance and urgency.

Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA)

When a system encounters a particular failure, the FMEA is the best tool to use to shed light on it. The Failure Mode component of the tool is about brainstorming potential things that can lead to system failure. These are the failure modes. Effects Analysis dives deeper into the effects of each of the failure modes identified in the previous step.


Taking Root Cause Analysis seriously is just one of the many ways organizations achieve Six Sigma. There’s no one way to carry out RCA since every problem is unique to the organization. While other tools can be used to conduct RCA as well, these are ones that successful organizations use from time to time. Each one has proved time and time again to be effective and getting rid of problems and issues once and for all.



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