Column Lean Manufacturing Management

Root Cause Elimination Is A Winning Mindset

Klaus M. Blache | May 1, 2021

An effective root-cause problem-elimination approach reduces personnel injuries, minimizes rework and scrap, increases uptime and competitiveness, and cuts costs.

The ASQ (American Society for Quality, Milwaukee, WI,, says, “A root cause is defined as a factor that caused a nonconformance and should be permanently eliminated through process improvement.”

“The root cause is the core issue—the highest-level cause—that sets in motion the entire cause-and-effect reaction that ultimately leads to the problem(s). Root cause analysis (RCA) is a collective term that describes a wide range of approaches, tools, and techniques used to uncover causes of problems. Some RCA approaches are geared more toward identifying true root causes than others, some are more general problem-solving techniques, and others simply offer support for the core activity of root-cause analysis.”

A root cause is anything that mitigated a nonconformance that should be permanently eliminated. Otherwise, over time, you end up fixing the same things. Reasons to do root-cause problem elimination include reducing personnel injuries, minimizing rework or scrap, increasing uptime and competitiveness, and cutting costs.

Problems you observe are often the symptoms. With investigation you find that it was really a process or program failure, organizational failure, lack of training, or poorly written work instructions. It’s more about what physically happened to the asset, human-factor-related errors, unclear standard practices driving variation, deficient accepted daily practices, and plant-floor culture.

When assessing a facility’s level of maturity and organizational health, I ask questions including :

Do you have standardized work and is it being followed?

Do you have individual/small team continuous-process improvement and is it working?

Do you have a methodology to improve and sustain the thinking process to one of ongoing improvement and is it working?

For the first two questions, I usually get a positive nod or a yes. When I emphasize the third question, there is hesitation and explanation of areas in which they are still trying to implement and/or correct weaknesses. From my observation, an informal RCA process has limited accountability, especially in follow-up, that assures corrective actions have a measurable positive impact. It typically has no mechanism for sharing ideas or documenting what has been learned. A common practical problem-solving/elimination process is needed to get the entire facility to use the same “thinking process.” Your RCA strategy should envision an entire facility full of problem eliminators.

Many places that use some RCA are typically doing the basic 5 Whys, histograms, and Pareto charts. There are many other tools, including correlation and scatter plots, Fishbone (cause & effect) diagram, barrier analysis, cause mapping, logic tree, fault tree, process mapping, and 8D (eight disciplines problem solving developed at Ford Motor Co.).

Learn several tools well and understand when to use any of the 15-plus key RCA tools and techniques. Grasping a continuous-improvement mindset benefits all parts of an organization. EP

Based in Knoxville, Dr. Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at

New Root Cause Analysis Course

The next RCA course offered by the UT-RMC is June 15 to 17, 2021, at the Nissan (Smyrna, TN) Training Center.




Klaus M. Blache

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