Potential problems using software for RCA

Software can be helpful in a root cause analysis plan, but it also can lead to potential problems.


Root cause analysis (RCA) is a way of thinking, not a software application. However, there are sites that spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours learning about software instead of solving problems. Software is not necessarily bad, but also a sports car is not necessary to learn how to drive. Here are some potential problems of using software in an RCA plan:

  • Software can limit team involvement: the facilitator is head down in the computer rather than up. This can hinder responses from the team.
  • Software can slow the flow of ideas: creating or moving causes and links can be a slow process. Time required to create or edit means other are waiting and forgetting points and causes.
  • Software can complicate reporting: for most sites the simplest and most effective reporting is the A3 style RCA report.

Computers create barriers between facilitators and the RCA team. If information has to be collected directly to the software, then a scribe or facilitator and a recorder should be considered. If information can be captured after the analysis, or problems can be solved without software, then a software-free RCA should be considered.

Some helpful tools while using a software-free RCA include sticky notes, a big blank wall, or a white board. These tools enable group involvement by allowing them to write and share or verbally share information to capture the causes. It also gives two streams of causes in two different communication styles. If two people share the same or similar causes, the responses can be stacked, and both participants will know they were heard. This can be key to good facilitation.

A benefit of using sticky notes is the ability to understand the sequence of events and include any time stamped data from PLCs, cameras, etc. Once the key event, also known as forcing functions, is identified, fault and logic tree can be transitioned with ease. This will provide a better understanding of the systemic and latent causes of the key event.

The sticky method allows causal chains to be reorganized and new causes to be added without huge disruptions to the flow of ideas. By taking a picture of the analysis, results can be shared with others electronically after it is pasted into a chosen report format. All things considered, software is not bad. It is simply not required to get started and make substantial improvements to a facility. Many students save thousands of dollars by using nothing more than sticky notes and a sound root cause methodology. Once root cause is a part of business culture, information can be captured, cataloged, and shared more effectively. Software can help, but not allowing it get in the way from the start is the key.

- Jon Bailey is a creative director at Eruditio. This article originally appeared on Eruditio's Blog. Eruditio is a CFE Media content partner.

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