Nearly every project experiences a problem or two throughout its normal life cycle. From difficulties sticking to the projected budget to issues like scope creep, these issues — if left unchecked — can cause an otherwise successful project to fail.
Root-cause analysis (RCA) attempts to identify and resolve such problems at their foundation. Instead of resulting in a temporary fix that will eventually fail, effective RCA can solve these issues for good. The right root cause analysis template is a great place to start.
Performing Root-Cause Analysis
In most cases, project managers follow a clear path to root-cause analysis. To make the process even easier, consider downloading or creating a simple root-cause analysis template. Excel is often used, but Word is usable for simple tables. Either way, the approach usually involves:
- Defining the problem at hand
- Gathering pertinent data and information
- Identifying potential causal factors
- Determining the root cause or, in some cases, multiple causes
- Prioritizing and delegating solutions for each cause
- Recommending or implementing a solution
The first two steps are self-explanatory. When it comes to the remaining steps, however, various RCA templates, tools, and techniques are often used to streamline the process.
One of the simplest and most straightforward tools for root-cause analysis, this method attempts to provide an answer to the question, “why is this problem happening?” By answering this and similar questions, project managers can gain a great deal of insight into project-specific problems.
Generally, five questions are enough to provide all the insight you need. However, some analyses might require fewer questions and others might require more. The point here isn’t to ask a specific number of questions for every problem you encounter. Instead, it serves as a template for those who aren’t sure where to begin.
Start by describing the problem as specifically as possible. Note that you don’t have to limit yourself to just one problem. By creating a handy chart, you’ll be able address multiple issues at a time.
Once you have a list of problems, start asking a series of questions that pertain to each issue. After answering the first one, try to base your next question off of that answer. As an example of root-cause analysis via the Whys, consider the following cycle of questions and answers:
- Why did the project fail? Because it wasn’t completed on time.
- Why wasn’t the project completed on time? Because we didn’t have enough team members.
- Why didn’t we have enough team members? Because the budget wasn’t large enough.
Remember, it doesn’t have to be a set number of questions. This method is commonly known as the 5 Whys, but, In the example given above, three sets of questions and answers are enough. The idea here is to provide some clarity to the underlying issue and the primary causes by diving deeper with each consecutive question – the actual number of questions asked is irrelevant. You might also consider using a Pareto chart to help you create insightful questions and prioritize issues.
Although Is/Is Not analysis isn’t an exact science, it can help you create a list of potential causes while ruling out others. Like the five whys, you can start your analysis by creating a simple table and defining the project’s problems as specifically as possible. These should be described in the first column of your table or chart.
The next two columns are used to define what your problem is and what it is not. Using our failed project example from above, we could say that the project “is” done but it “is not” successful. Use the remaining two columns to address the consequences of the problem as well as your next course of action. Our problem is done, but it is not successful, so we might have to try it again. Then, we might be able to consider it a success.
Failure Mode and Effects
The failure mode and effects analysis is a great way to provide a comprehensive examination of a specific process or system. Not only does it separate potential errors from those that have actually occurred, but it also lets you describe the consequences of each effect.
It can be used in reverse, too. By creating a failure mode and effects analysis after a problem or effect occurs, you can easily narrow down the causes and points of failure until you’ve found the culprit.
The Affinity Diagram
Sometimes used in tandem with the fishbone diagram, the affinity diagram should be created immediately following a brainstorming session. This lets you chart your thoughts and ideas while organizing them into related or similar groups.
Again, it’s not an exact science. Instead, the purpose of the affinity diagram is to narrow down a list of potential causes to the few that are most likely.
The Fishbone Diagram
Also known as a cause-and-effect or Ishikawa diagram, the fishbone diagram is an efficient way of tackling the most complicated problems within your project. It’s especially useful when trying to uncover multiple problems or errors that have occurred within a single project.
But, the fishbone diagram is often used in tandem with other forms of root-cause analysis. Potential uses include:
- The 5 Whys: Analyze multiple problems while working your way toward a single goal by combining the five whys with the fishbone diagram.
- The Affinity Diagram: The answers you receive with the fishbone diagram can be used to populate an affinity diagram for further categorization and separation.
Combining different methods of root-cause analysis lets you investigate an issue from multiple perspectives. The extra time it takes to process your problems through two or more forms of RCA is often well worth the added clarity and insight.
Root-Cause Analysis Software
Most project managers can handle minor problems and errors without the use of software. However, advanced issues and recurring problems might require the use of sophisticated IT and root-cause analysis tools.
Billed as a mind-mapping and brainstorming app, Xmind enables the creation of various charts, graphs, and maps, including a fishbone root-cause analysis template. Although it doesn’t include any built-in AI to help diagnose issues or solve problems, it’s a convenient tool that can save you the time of having to build a brand new diagram for each and every project.
Developed by Sologic, Causelink features numerous cause-and-effect logic diagrams that are tremendously helpful when performing RCA. It features integrated support for the five whys and the fishbone diagram, and it offers a plethora of additional tools for root-cause analysis.
Built around collaborative root-cause analysis, EasyRCA supports the five whys, the fishbone diagram, and hundreds of additional logic trees. It features a highly intuitive interface, informative user dashboards, an automated report generator, and various root-cause analysis templates.
Getting to the Root of the Matter
Project managers use RCA to investigate problems and implement permanent solutions. Whether they’re working from a root-cause analysis template, word processing software, or even tracking the problem-solving process by hand, efficient RCA is the key to minimizing the amount of time, hassle, and frustration experienced by everyone involved.
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