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A Breakdown of Root Cause Analysis: Identifying The Root Cause

IR Team

Written by IR Team


When a problem occurs, whether it's in general life, or within a specific situation, the first thing we need to do is find the quickest, easiest way to go about the problem solving process.

The best way to solve or analyze a problem is to conduct a Root Cause Analysis (RCA) to find out exactly what caused the problem in the first place, and with that information, figure out the most efficient and prudent way to fix it.

While root cause analysis methods are also applicable to physical systems, in this article, we'll go through the root cause analysis process as it relates to IT infrastructures, and explain the most useful means of identifying root causes.

We'll discuss how to identify causal factors (and there could be several) that contributed to the problem and once they've been determined, the best way to implement solutions.

We'll cover the use of root cause analysis tools that can analyze faults in business processes, and how to implement corrective actions.

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What is root cause analysis?

When a problem exists with your IT network, there may be many contributing, or causal factors, and root cause analysis (RCA) is the process used to identify root cause, so that appropriate solutions can be implemented as soon as possible.

RCA encompasses the various methodologies, tools, and procedures used to identify the root causes of issues in areas like software development, DevOps, and network infrastructure management.

The RCA process is initially a reactive procedure which is carried out after the problem has occurred. However, after a root cause analysis has been carried out, it becomes a proactive measure, since it may identify subsequent issues before they arise. Basically, you could think of RCA as a tree, where the symptoms of a problem are visible above ground, but to fix the problem it requires dome digging.

Visualization of root cause analysis

Image source: Workfellow

Why is root cause analysis important?

The chances of a failure recurring are high if you address only a symptom of the issue but leave the underlying reason for the issue unaddressed.

Analyzing the causes of a problem - rather than just putting out the fires that that result from the problem - helps to determine a definitive solution and to prevent it from happening again.

This proactive approach leads to continuous improvement in risk management strategies, and creates a prevention plan that can save time and money - and ultimately facilitate business growth opportunities.

Benefits of root cause analysis

As root cause analysis is primarily about addressing problems at their core, there are many significant advantages to organizations.

More effective problem solving

RCA helps teams and individuals gain a better understanding of a specific issue. Once they have as much information as possible about why an issue occurred, organizations can develop targeted and effective solutions that lead to improved problem-solving outcomes.

Improved decision making

By understanding the causal factor of a problem through data driven root cause analysis, organizations can determine the potential impact of different solutions. This allows more informed decisions, minimizes guesswork and results in more successful outcomes.

Prevention of recurrence

RCA addresses the underlying causes of a problem by uncovering the root causes and minimizing the likelihood of similar problems recurring in the future. This proactive approach not only saves time and resources but also enhances overall efficiency and productivity.

Fostering a proactive mindset

When organizations conduct root cause analysis, it encourages teams and individuals to dig deeper into the core of a problem. This creates a proactive attitude and drives innovation, making employees more aware of possible causal factors, driving continuous improvement and better-informed decision making.

Increased customer satisfaction

By addressing the root causes of issues, and what sequence of events leads to the problem. organizations can improve the overall quality of the products and services they offer. This encourages better customer satisfaction and loyalty.

How to perform a root cause analysis

While there is no one-size-fits-all template, there are several trusted frameworks used by organizations to execute root cause analysis.

Root cause analysis works on the assumption that underlying systems and events are interrelated, in other words an action carried out in one area triggers an action in another area and so on. The principle is that by tracing back through these actions - or continuously asking 'Why?' you can discover where the issues originated (or the root causes) and how they grew to be come the current problem.

Here's an effective RCA framework:

1. Identify the problem

Before deciding whether to undertake the root cause analysis process, it's important to consider whether the problem is significant enough to allocate the time and resources needed for RCA. This means determining the relative frequency of the problem, it's cost impact and other associated threats. Before you can identify the root cause, you'll need to identify that there is in fact a problem. So it's necessary to ask:

  • What do you see happening?

  • What are the specific symptoms?

  • Is it serious enough to issue problem statement?

2. Data collection

You'll need to perform a complete analysis of the situation before you can move forward to address the contributing factors. So you'll need to:

  • Gather proof that the problem exists

  • Establish how long the problem has existed

  • Determine the impact of the problem

Before you perform root cause analysis, and to maximize its effectiveness, you'll need to include input from all stakeholders to ensure that everyone understands, and is on the same page with the problem.

3. Identify all possible causal factors

During this stage, you may discover that there is more than one causal factor, so it's important to identify as many as possible. The issue here is that treating the most obvious symptom usually won't be sufficient. This involves digging deeper, and treating each individual causal factor and underlying issues accordingly. So you'll need to determine:

  • What sequence of events lead to the discovery of the problem?

  • Under what conditions did the problem occur?

  • Could three be another underlying cause surrounding the occurrence of the central problem?

It's important to evaluate the procedures and processes used in problem identification, particularly if the issue was believed to have been resolved, but has now resurfaced. There needs to be a set of diagnostic parameters in place to ensure that the root causes actually pertain to the perceived problem.

4. Define the potential root causes

To determine causal factors, you'll need to reconstruct a chronology of events to help identify the specific symptoms that contributed to the problem. You can do this by:

  • Regarding each event as a potential cause

  • Performing fault tree analysis using Boolean logic

  • Generating a list of potential causes using a Cause and Effect, or Fishbone Diagram

  • Asking why do the causal factors exist

  • Asking what the real reason is that the problem occurred.

By looking at as many causal factors as possible, you'll determine the real root cause - or multiple root causes of a problem. If they aren't correctly diagnosed, it's more than likely that the same or similar issues will occur over and over.

Root cause analysis

Image source: Resco

5. Implement solutions

It's important to do a deep analysis of your cause-and-effect process, to identify the changes you'll be making, and to predict the effects that your solution(s) may have on your systems. This way, you can pick up potential failures before they happen.

One way of doing this is to use Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA). This tool uses risk analysis to identify areas where a solution could fail. Implementing FMEA for all your systems and processes can reduce the likelihood of problems that need RCA in the future.

Root cause analysis framework

Tips for performing effective root cause analysis

Teamwork and using fresh eyes. Draw on the strengths, experiences and expertise of other team members. With a variety of different perspectives you have a better chance of finding possible causes different problems.

Create a blame-free culture. Even if your RCA uncovers human causes, it shouldn’t be used to criticize or blame. Instead, try to instill confidence and encouragement, so that team-members will feel inclined to share ideas and insights that can help with situation analysis.

Don't make assumptions. Root cause analysis a way to look at a problem from a fresh perspective, so keep an open mind as you work through the five steps, trust the relevant data to reveal things you didn’t already know, and to find the most effective solution.

How IR can help trace your problems

In an ideal world, organizations would promote and encourage a collaborative IT culture, where different teams work together to share insights and collectively address issues.

There's no doubt that cross-functional collaboration enhances the efficiency of troubleshooting, identifying and resolving root cause issues. Whether your problems are due to physical causes, human error, or other factors, conducting RCA will be far more efficient and effective when you have a clear window through which you can view all of your systems.

The critical aspect of proactive troubleshooting

Proactive troubleshooting is a necessity for any enterprise organization who understands that the cost of interruption, system failure, downtime and the aftermath of recurring issues extends far beyond the immediate inconvenience.

Proactive problem-solving is obviously about solving the visible symptoms but it's also about delving deeper into the intricacies of your entire networking infrastructure.

Using a real time, powerful monitoring and performance management tool like IR Collaborate can give you the means to stay in control, empowering IT teams to be proactive rather than reactive. This way, they can focus on higher-value projects, giving your organization a strategic edge.

The impact of recurring UCC issues are not only frustrating, but they will ultimately impact your bottom line, so having a truly seamless UCC experience is now considered a significant differentiator.

With the practices of root cause analysis, and collaborative IT practices, organizations can navigate the complex landscape of UCC and emerge not just resilient but thriving.

Want to know more about observability? Read our guide.

How Data Observability Empowers Informed Decisions


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