Facilitation Tools: Root-Cause Analysis

As the name suggests, root-cause analysis is a facilitation tool that attempts to understand the deep, underlying causes of a problem. Just like the weeds in your garden, pulling at their leaves is no use - they will continue to grow until you address their roots. The idea is the same for facilitation; addressing the root cause of a problem should prevent the undesirable outcome from recurring.

Root-cause analysis encourages meeting participants to move beyond ‘this has happened’ and helps them to better understand ‘why this has happened’. Here are the seven basic principles of root-cause analysis that you can apply to your big projects and business meetings:

  1. Ultimately, root-cause analysis is about identifying the factors that have previously resulted in undesirable outcomes or consequences. It is not just about the what, but also about the how. Understanding the scale, location and timing of what went wrong in the past can help inform the plan that will prevent the same mistakes being made again. Essentially, root-cause analysis is about learning lessons to promote the achievement of better consequences.
  2. Root-cause analysis should be performed systematically, with as many participants involved as possible. This usually happens as part of an investigation, with conclusions supported by documented evidence.
  3. Participants may find that there is more than one root-cause for a particular event or problem. It often takes persistence and sustained effort to drill down and determine the effects of each.
  4. A great benefit of using root-cause analysis as a facilitation tool is that it lowers the risk of wasting time and money on the same mistakes. If alternative methods are found to be equally effective, the simplest or lowest cost approach is preferred.
  5. Discussions on root-cause analysis typically begin with an attempt to define the problem. All participants must agree with the way in which a problem or situation is defined before any progress can be made. Do not be alarmed if this takes some time, better to get all these views out in the open as early on the process as possible.
  6. Root-cause analysis often requires the creation of a timeline or sequence of events. This helps to visually display the relationship between contributing factors and root causes in terms of their link to the defined problem.
  7. Ultimately, root-cause analysis stems from the desire to be proactive rather than reactive. It is about solving problems before they arise, or at least having the ability to quash them before they escalate.

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