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What's Wrong With The Term "Root Causes"​?

March 13, 2020 1:16:44 PM EDT

There is great variation when it comes to a common understanding of the term 'Root Cause Analysis' or RCA.

In a previous, lengthy paper, I wrote an article entitled "The Stigma of RCA: What's In a Name?". It focused on common understandings (or misunderstandings) of what RCA means and then described the basic steps of any investigative occupation. I just left it up to the reader to determine if their 'RCA' approach had room for improvement.

I myself even agreed with many about how the term 'Root Cause Analysis' was confusing as a label for such a disciplined analytical process, because it insinuates there is a single 'root' cause and that one has reached the end of the line or the end of the root, so no more exploration is needed.

My outlook on that has been reshaped by a different perspective I read from Christoph H. Hinske who posted a literal view of 'roots' from his Forest Ecosystem Manager's perspective. It just made sense! He stated the following about 'roots':

"One honest question: First I thought that I agree that the concept of root causes is not adequate. Then I reflected it from my perspective of being a Forest Ecosystem Manager. I came to the conclusion that it is actually very adequate. Roots change over time, they are literally countless in numbers, adopt to changing conditions, alter their environment and even make trees walk (Mangroves can walk because roots adjust to changing salinity levels). The roots of trees communicate with each other, creating an intricate web/ parallel universe. Thus my question: what is it exactly that “does not work well” with the image/ approach of root causes?"

There is still much variation in the physical application of the process of 'Root Cause Analysis' as I described in this paper "Do Learning Teams Make RCA Obsolete?", but for now, let's just focus on the name or label of RCA.

After reading Christoph's description of roots when viewed as an ecosystem, I ask his same question, "What is it exactly that “does not work well” with the image/ approach and proper application of root causes?"


About the Author
Robert (Bob) J. Latino is CEO of Reliability Center, Inc. a company that helps teams and companies do RCAs with excellence.  Bob has been facilitating RCA and FMEA analyses with his clientele around the world for over 35 years and has taught over 10,000 students in the PROACT® methodology.

Bob is co-author of numerous articles and has led seminars and workshops on FMEA, Opportunity Analysis and RCA, as well as co-designer of the award winning PROACT® Investigation Management Software solution.  He has authored or co-authored six (6) books related to RCA and Reliability in both manufacturing and in healthcare and is a frequent speaker on the topic at domestic and international trade conferences.

Bob has applied the PROACT® methodology to a diverse set of problems and industries, including a published paper in the field of Counter Terrorism entitled, "The Application of PROACT® RCA to Terrorism/Counter Terrorism Related Events."

Follow Bob on LinkedIn!

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