October 12, 2011 | Barb Carr

Root Cause Analysis Tips – Continuous Improvement

Happy Wednesday and welcome to this week’s Root Cause Analysis Tips column.
This week, the topic is Continuous Improvement.

Advanced Root Cause Analysis using an expert system is essential to your improvement efforts.  Whatever method you decide to use for continuous improvement, TapRooT® tools can help.

Let’s discuss some of the most common improvement methods and how you can integrate TapRooT®.

Have you heard about the PDCA cycle?  This acronym stands for plan, do, check, act (or PDSA; plan, do, study, act) and represents a never-ending loop that requires a constant refinement of your efforts.  What I mean by that is you never really finish; you continue to improve the system, hence the term CI!  This is what the PDCA cycle looks like:

So how can you use the TapRooT® tools to help?  At a minimum, you should use the Root Cause Tree® during plan and check.  After all, how can you fix a problem if you do not understand the root causes?  You can also use the SnapCharT® to map out the process during the plan stage.  The Corrective Action Helper® and Smarter Matrix can be used during the plan/do stages as well to help you develop action plans.

PDCA was born of Walter Shewhart’s general process improvement model and was adopted by W. Edwards Deming as the PDSA (plan, do, study, act) model, although it is now more often referred to as PDCA.  Dr. Deming began lecturing about PDCA in Japan in 1950 and it has been widely used in many industries and applications ever since.  While other concepts have come and gone, this simple process improvement model has stood the test of time.

If you are a Six Sigma person, the PDCA diagram looks familiar, since it is similar to the Six Sigma DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) cycle.  Again, the SnapCharT®, Corrective Action Helper®, and Smarter Matrix can be used to map out the system and develop corrections.  In my experience, people usually love or hate Six Sigma, there is no middle ground.  What I will say is that the process does work if it is implemented properly (and the people who hate it usually did not implement it properly); however, I will say the typical root cause analysis tools commonly used in SS are weak at best.  Therefore, the most helpful of the TapRooT® tools for use with SS is the Root Cause Tree®.  If you have SS in your company, keep doing it, just improve it and get better results with the tools available to you.

Maybe your organization does Kaizen events.  Usually, these events have a smaller scope than the typical CI or SS project.  Nevertheless, they can really improve the business, and again, the Root Cause Tree® can help you understand the reasons you are having problems.  If Lean initiatives are part of your project (like 5S for example), you must analyze the causes of your waste before you act, otherwise, you could be wasting your time or worse, creating other problems.

As I said, the simple concept of PDCA has stood the test of time.  In fact, some typical management standards even follow the process; for example, the ANSI Z10 standard for health and safety management systems and the ISO 14000 standards for environmental management:


ISO 14000

Continuous improvement is like pushing a boulder up a hill; it takes time, effort, thought, and commitment.  But let me ask a question – would you rather spend your time doing CI or doing investigations after something bad happens?  The answer is obvious.

If you want to learn more about PDCA and will be at the National Safety Council (NSC) conference in Philadelphia in a few weeks, attend my talk “Change your safety team into an improvement team” on November 2 at 1:00 PM.

Thanks for visiting the blog and best of luck with your continuous improvement efforts.

Root Cause Analysis
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