Define and celebrate the role of a RCA Site Champion

An effective Root Cause Analysis program is only as good as the people leading the effort

By Bob Latino, Reliability Center Inc. March 21, 2011

Oftentimes when we look at institutionalizing Root Cause Analysis initiatives, we look at them strictly from the shareholders view and work backwards. Don’t get us wrong; we are not against new initiatives that are designed to change behavior for the betterment of the corporation. This process is necessary to progress as a society. However, the manner in which we try to attain that end is what has been typically ineffective.

Changing behavior is essentially changing culture and changing culture takes time. You must take into consideration the shared values of each site and link the new information so that it fits the values of those involved. To create behavior change it must become part of the belief system of the individuals who are expected to change.

We must look at linking what is different about this initiative, from the perception of the end user; as opposed to others we have tried and not been able to succeed. We must look at the reality of the environment of the people who will make the change happen. How can we change the behavior of a given population to reflect those behaviors that are necessary to meet our objectives?

How many times have we all seen a well-intentioned effort from the top try to make its way to the field and fail miserably? Typically, somewhere in the middle of the organization the translation of the original message begins to deviate from its intended path. This is a common reason of why some very good efforts fail, because of the miscommunication of the original message!

Finding your champions

Because of this breakdown there must be a Corporate Champion role and Site Champion role. The Corporate Champion’s role is significant because they are responsible for developing Champion criteria and selecting the Site Champions. They are responsible for developing the metrics and getting the metrics approved by the corporate oversight committee. The approved metrics are the scorecard used to measure RCA success.

The Corporate Champion is responsible for approving the implementation plan created by the Site Champions, as well as the common link between the site and the corporate management. The Corporate Champion must keep all concerned abreast of the progress as well as any barriers hindering the sites from successful implementation. This means there will be quarterly meeting with the Corporate Oversight committee as well as bi-monthly meetings with Site Champions.

If we are proactive in our thinking, and we foresee such a barrier to success, then we can plan for its occurrence and avoid it. This is where the role of the RCA Site Champion comes into play. We will use the term “Champion” synonymously with the term “Sponsor”.

There are three major roles of a Site RCA Champion:

1. The Site Champion must administer and support the RCA effort from a management standpoint. This includes ensuring the message from the top to the floor is communicated properly and effectively. Any deviations from the plan will be the responsibility of the Site Champion to align or get back on track. This person is truly the “Champion” of the RCA effort.

2. The second primary role of the RCA Site Champion is to be a mentor to the Drivers and the Analysts. This means the Champion must be educated in the RCA process and have a thorough understanding of what is necessary for success.

3. The third primary role of the RCA Site Champion is to be a protector of those utilizing the process and uncover causes that may be politically sensitive. Sometimes we refer to this role as providing “air cover” for ground troops. In order to fulfill this responsibility, the RCA Site Champion must be in a position of authority to take a defensive position and protect the person who uncovered these facts.

Ideally this would be a full-time position. However, in reality, we find it typically to be a part-time effort for an individual. In either situation we have seen it work, the key is it must be made a priority to the organization. This is generally accomplished if the executive(s) perform their designed tasks set out above. Actions do speak louder than words.

When new initiatives come down the pike and the workforce sees no support, it becomes another “they are not going to walk-the-talk” issue. These are viewed as lip service programs that will pass over time. If the RCA effort is going to succeed, it must first break down the paradigms that currently exist. It must be viewed as different than the other programs. This is also the RCA Site Champion’s role in projecting an image that this is different and will work.

Champion’s responsibilities

The RCA Champion’s additional responsibilities include insuring that the following responsibilities are carried out:

1. Selecting and training RCA Driver’s who will lead RCA teams. What are the personal characteristics that are required to make this a success? What kind of training do they need to provide them the tools to do the job right?

2. Developing management support systems such as:

  • RCA performance criteria: What are the expectations of financial returns that are expected from the corporation? What are the time frames? What are the landmarks?
  • Providing time: In an era of re-engineering and lean manufacturing, “How are we going to mandate that designated employees WILL spend 10% of their week on RCA teams?”
  • Process the recommendations: How are recommendations from RCA’s going to be handled in the current work order system? How does improvement (proactive) work get executed in a reactive work order system?
  • Provide technical resources: What technical resources are going to be made available to the analysts to prove and disprove their hypotheses using the “Whatever It Takes” mentality?
  • Provide skill-based training: How will we educate RCA team members and ensure that they are competent enough to participate on such a team?

3. The Site Champion shall also be responsible for setting performance expectations. The Site Champion should draft a letter that will be forwarded to all students attending the RCA training. The letter should clearly outline exactly what is expected of them and how the follow-up system will be implemented.

4. The Site Champion should ensure all training classes are kicked off either by themselves, an executive or other person of authority, giving credibility and priority to the effort.

5. The Site Champion should also be responsible for developing and setting up a recognition system for RCA successes. Recognition can range from a letter by an executive to tickets to a ball game. Whatever the incentive is, it should be of value to the recipient.

Needless to say, the role of a Champion is very critical to the RCA process. The lack of a Champion is usually why most formal RCA efforts fail. There is no one leading the cause or carrying the RCA flag. Make no bones about it, if an organization has never had a formal RCA effort, or had one and failed, such an endeavor is an uphill battle. Without a RCA Champion, sometimes it can get to feeling like you are on an island by yourself.

The role of the RCA driver

The RCA driver can be synonymous with the RCA Team Leaders. These are the people who organize all the details and are closest to the work. Drivers carry the burden of producing bottom-line results for the RCA effort. Their teams will meet, analyze, hypothesize, verify and draw factual conclusions as to why undesirable outcomes occur. Then they will develop recommendations or countermeasures to eliminate the risk of recurrence of the event.

All the executive, manager and Champions efforts to support RCA are directed at supporting the Drivers role to ensure success. The Driver is in a unique position in that he/she deals directly with the field experts, the people that will comprise the core team.

From a functional standpoint the RCA Drivers roles are:

1. Making arrangements for RCA training for team leaders and team members: This includes setting up meeting times, approving training objectives and providing adequate training rooms.

2. Reiterating expectations to students: Clarify to students what is expected of them, when it is expected and how it will be obtained. The Driver should occasionally set and hold RCA class reunions. This reunion should be announced at the initial training so as to set an expectation of demonstrable performance by that time.

3. Ensure that RCA support systems are working: Notify RCA Champion of any deficiencies in support systems and see they are corrected.

4. Facilitate RCA teams: The Driver shall lead the RCA teams and be responsible and accountable for the team’s performance. The Driver will be responsible for properly documenting every phase of the analysis.

5. Document performance: The Driver will be responsible for developing the appropriate metrics to measure performance against. This performance shall always be converted from units to dollars when demonstrating savings, hence success.

6. Ensure Regulatory Compliance: The Driver shall be responsible for ensuring that the analyses conducted are thorough and credible enough to meet applicable regulatory standards and guidelines.

7. Communicate performance: The Driver shall be the chief spokesperson for the team. They will present management updates as well as to other individuals on-site and at other similar operations that could benefit from the information. The Driver shall develop proper information distribution routes so that the RCA results get to others in the organization that may have, or have had, similar occurrences.

The Driver is the last of the support mechanisms that should be in place to support such an RCA effort. Most RCA efforts that we have encountered are put together at the last minute as a result of an “incident” that just occurred. We discussed this topic earlier regarding using RCA as only a reactive tool.

A structured RCA effort should be properly placed in an organizational chart. Because RCA is intended to be a proactive task, it should reside under the control of a structured reliability department. In the absence of such a department, it should report to a staff position such as a VP of Operations, VP of Engineering, VP of Quality and/or VP of Risk.

Whatever the case may be, ensure that an RCA effort is never placed under the control of a maintenance department (or any other reactive department). By its nature, a maintenance department is a reactive entity. Their role is to respond to the day-to-day activities in the field. The role of a true reliability department is to look at tomorrow, not today. Any proactive task assigned to a maintenance department is typically doomed from the start.

This is the reason that when “reliability” became the buzzword of the mid-1990s that many “maintenance engineering departments” were renamed as “reliability departments”. The same people resided in the department and they were performing the same jobs, however their title was changed, and not their function. If you are an individual who is charged with the responsibility of responding to daily problems and also seizing future opportunities, you are likely to never get to realize those opportunities. Reaction wins every time in this scenario.

Now let’s assume at this point we have developed all the necessary systems and personnel to support a RCA effort. How do we know what opportunities to work on first? Working on the wrong events can be counterproductive and yield poor results.

Excerpt from the upcoming 4th edition of the text entitled, Root Cause Analysis: Improving Performance for Bottom Line Results by Robert J. Latino, Mark A, Latino and Kenneth C. Latino, published by Taylor and Francis Group LLC. The book will be available at on May 19.