Root Cause Analysis – Definition

Cite this article as:"Root Cause Analysis – Definition," in The Business Professor, updated April 10, 2019, last accessed October 24, 2020,


Define Root Cause Analysis Definition

Root cause is the primal cause of a problem, removal of which will prevent the problem from recurring. Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is the process of finding out the main reason of a problem and the approach to resolve it. It differs from causal factors in its scale and impact on the resolution of a problem. Removal of a causal factor does not resolve the main issue, while addressing the root cause does.

A Little More on Root Cause Analysis

Root Cause Analysis involves a four principles process to arrive at the bottom of the issue.

  1. Use of ‘five whys’ technique to define and describe the problem event.
  2. Timeline details from the beginning, first appearance of problem, to the final failure.
  3. Demarcation of causal factors and root causes.
  4. Tying in the data together to arrive at the final analysis of the root cause, it’s behavior, and the method of resolution.

It is a methodical process extensively used in the identification of root causes of events and to separate them from causal factors. Problem recurrence can only be addressed by successfully analysing and resolving the root cause. It’s converse is the Root Cause Failure Analysis (RCFA), which posits that addressing a single cause might not always eliminate the issue from the system.

Root Cause Analysis Usage

RCA is usually employed after an unsuccessful event occurs. The insights gleaned from the analysis make it useful in eliminating the problems that caused the failures. It is also used for making predictions and forecasts in event analysis. RCA is distinct from event management, in this it is a totally separate process.

Examples of RCA

An RCA was done on the poor test scores of students. Investigation revealed that all these tests were taken in the last hour of the school implying that the hour wasn’t conducive to holding tests. A deeper dive revealed the reason as to why this hour wasn’t a good time for students to be tested – because the students were hungry which made them unfocussed. So the root cause was hunger and not the lateness of the hour – which was just a causal factor. Tests were moved to the period post lunch, improving test scores significantly.

References for Root Cause Analysis

Academic Research on Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis for beginners, Rooney, J. J., & Heuvel, L. N. V. (2004). Quality progress, 37(7), 45-56. This paper explains RCA, its principles, methods, and more.

Root cause analysis: a framework for tool selection, Doggett, A. M. (2005). Quality Management Journal, 12(4), 34-45. This article discusses three different tools for RCA – the current reality tree, the cause-and-effect-diagram, and the interrelationship diagrams, to provide a performance analysis framework for RCA.

A statistical comparison of three root cause analysis tools, Doggett, A. M. (2004). Journal of Industrial Technology, 20(2), 2-9. This article presents a statistical comparison between three different tools employed in the application of RCA.

Rootcause analysis of construction-cost overruns, Rosenfeld, Y. (2013). Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, 140(1), 04013039. This journal examines the problem of cost overruns in the construction business worldwide through the lens of an RCA.

A sustainability root cause analysis methodology and its application, Jayswal, A., Li, X., Zanwar, A., Lou, H. H., & Huang, Y. (2011). Computers & chemical engineering, 35(12), 2786-2798. This article looks at the problem of sustainability in energy product system design through the filter of RCA.

The problem with root cause analysis, Peerally, M. F., Carr, S., Waring, J., & Dixon-Woods, M. (2017). BMJ Qual Saf, 26(5), 417-422. This paper discusses the problems inherent in the process of Root Cause Analysis by looking at data form high risk industries.

Application of root cause analysis in improvement of product quality and productivity, Mahto, D., & Kumar, A. (2008). Journal of Industrial Engineering and Management, 1(2), 16-53. This article identifies the problems to improve production and quality maintenance in manufacturing by applying the RCA method.

Rootcause analysis of design-time compliance violations on the basis of property patterns, Elgammal, A., Turetken, O., van den Heuvel, W. J., & Papazoglou, M. (2010, December). In International Conference on Service-Oriented Computing (pp. 17-31). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. This paper looks at the RCA method and its application in compliance violations in businesses, law and policy regulations.

Root cause analysis with enriched process logs, Suriadi, S., Ouyang, C., van der Aalst, W. M., & ter Hofstede, A. H. (2012, September). In International Conference on Business Process Management (pp. 174-186). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. This journal discusses the application of RCA in the field of process mining.

Managing recalls in a consumer product supply chain–root cause analysis and measures to mitigate risks, Kumar, S., & Schmitz, S. (2011). International Journal of Production Research, 49(1), 235-253. This paper discusses the application of RCA in the products supply-chain management process to mitigate risks.

Using Bayesian networks for root cause analysis in statistical process control, Alaeddini, A., & Dogan, I. (2011). Expert Systems with Applications, 38(9), 11230-11243. This paper discusses the application of RCA in statistical process control with the use of Bayesian networks.

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