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I have a beef with “root cause analysis,” or maybe more accurately with how it is applied. Now that I most certainly have your attention, let me explain.
Root cause analysis, which has its origins in rocketry and science from the 1950s, is a sensible and disciplined approach to determining the cause of an event, usually an accident or a problem, and whether eliminating that cause will prevent the problem or accident from occurring again. Sometimes there can be more than one root cause.
My experience with root cause analysis has been through my work with safety engineers and more often with corporate executives dealing with compliance and ethics lapses.
Here is my main problem with root cause analysis: it is focused on the precise events that occurred to the point that even slight changes in the events which might have caused other problems and even bigger problems become irrelevant to the analysis, since those problems did not occur. This analysis does require disciplined focus; but, if it is going to provide full value to a company, it needs imagination as well.
I call this “root cause IF analysis.” What IF this; what IF that? I think this reflects the need to resist being controlled only by the events which took place; although, those must be fully explored too.
Perhaps I should not blame the process, but instead focus on how it is used. Much greater value could be achieved by analyzing potential causes once the actual issue is resolved.
Bart M. Schwartz is the chairman of Guidepost Solutions LLC, a global leader in investigations, due diligence, security and technology consulting, immigration and cross-border consulting, and monitoring and compliance solutions.