My idea of root cause analysis is that it attempts to define the core cause(s) of a problem. The problem could be of any category, including personal health, mechanical, or business problem. There are too numerous categories to define for a business problem, but the general idea is if you treat the root cause, you can eliminate all or a significant portion of the issues associated to the problem.
For example, if you have a headache, you may treat the symptoms by taking aspirin. If the headaches persist, you will probably seek medical advice to determine the root cause of the headache, which hopefully results in a satisfactory outcome.
In business, if you have a problem, you may treat the symptoms by adding staff, modifying existing systems, add a new technology solution or modify or add new policies or strategies, or apply other remedies. There are a myriad of technology, process and organizational changes that may be used either individually or in combination to treat the symptoms of the business problem. But how do you know that the remedies to treat the symptoms of the problem are successful? From an organizational management perspective, are you looking at long-term solutions or focused on short-term fixes and are these solutions and fixes aligned to your organizational strategies and objectives?
Six sigma and lean methodologies are valuable in assisting what the root cause may be, but a basic premise or dare I say assumption that these methodologies make, is that business processes are understood by the organization. Based on my experience, this is a significant potential oversight.
Before you jump into any technological solution or apply any long-term improvement methodologies, the organization needs to understand the underlying business problem(s) that are driving them to determine a solution. Once the business problem(s) are identified, validate them by understanding the scope and depth of the current state business processes and the symptoms those processes are revealing, from people, process and technology perspectives. Understand the current state business processes by using current documentation and conducting workshops with subject matter experts (SMEs) from across the organization. You may find that the business problem(s) initially identified may not be the true business problem(s) once the understanding of the current state has started. Imagine if you tried to implement a long-term improvement methodology without understanding the current process first.
This establishes a baseline for getting to the root cause from a process perspective. Once you establish this baseline, you have a focal point for discussion and analysis to determine how best to move forward. Are the current state processes “good enough” as they are or are they “good enough” we can apply six sigma and lean methodologies for constant improvement or are the current processes so messed up, we should create future state processes that are radically different from the current state? And yes, do they align with the goals and objectives of the organization?
The key is to understand your business processes to create a baseline for root cause analysis; after all, you can only treat the symptoms for so long before you either a) get healthy or b) the opposite.