The phrase ‘root cause analysis’ conjures a range of employee responses from “Oh great, management is gonna fire somebody!” to “Finally, we needed to get to the bottom of this issue months ago.” After your organization experiences a failed project or client-facing effort, a Root Cause Analysis (RCA), also known as “lessons learned” meetings, must be conducted. Unfortunately, these events can degrade into gripe sessions or a ‘blame game’.
But, if facilitated correctly, reviewing the details of what happened can yield deep understanding and specific actions required for repeating past successes, adding improvements for the next experience, and avoiding old mistakes.
Very few people enjoy admitting to mistakes; even fewer enjoy examining causes and effects of those mistakes. People involved in an RCA can get angry or uncooperative if they feel they need to be defensive. RCAs may not be fun, but they can be conducted well! Most teams want to start by considering all of the causes and categorizing them (communication, process, technology, tools, and training).
However, it is more important to set the following expectations for balancing the complexities of the activity:
- Focus on fact-finding rather than blaming people or departments.
- Brainstorm wildly without criticism, but stay on point and remain professional.
- Dig deep to reveal all of the core issues and keep the sensitive conversation confidential.
When defining impact, always consider tangibles like time, money, and people along with intangibles like reputation, team relationships, and potential risk. Keep asking ‘why’! The goal of an RCA is to define the problem and its impact and then ask ‘why’ until the core problem(s) can be defined and an actionable list of fixes completed. Pay close attention to the specific details and nuances. For example:
- Defined Impact: The March 16th legal communication (to be sent via email) intended for all 40,000 clients failed to reach 1750 clients resulting in fines of $800.
- Root Causes: 1750 email addresses were missing from the system because no process exists for adding new client email addresses.
- Resulting Recommendation: Create, train staff on, and implement a formal process for adding new email addresses.
Some mistakes are extremely costly and it is tempting to blame others for pain and damages, but intelligent leaders encourage their teams forgive quickly and move on. Conducting a proper Root Cause Analysis gives your organization an opportunity to prepare for future success and rise to its full potential more quickly– rather than playing the blame game.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michelle Sugerman (PMP, PCC) is a speaker, author, and leadership coach with Leading Synergies. She founded Synergy Groups, virtual masterminds connecting Christians in leadership around the globe for the purpose of Community, Accountability, and Transformation. She also partners with high-performers and heirs-apparent especially in the STEM industries. Michelle’s formal background in technology, franchise, and project management gives her an edge on implementing best practices and scaling towards sustainable success. Michelle lives in Colorado where she hikes fourteeners and enjoys gourmet meals with her loving husband of 22 years.