January 22, 2023 | Mark Paradies

What is a Root Cause Analysis?

What is root cause analysis?

What is Root Cause Analysis?

What is a root cause analysis? How do you find root causes? Of course, finding a root cause (root cause analysis) depends on what you are looking for. And that depends on your definition of a root cause.

What is a Root Cause Analysis?

So, the answer starts with a definition. So, before reading about “What is a root cause analysis?” … You should probably read this post about the definition of a root cause…

CLICK for the Definition of a Root Cause

Or, to save time, here are our definitions…

The TapRooT® System definition of a root cause, published in the early 1990s:

“The most basic cause (or causes)
that can reasonably be identified,
that management has control to fix and,
when fixed, 
will prevent (or significantly reduce
the likelihood of) the problem’s recurrence.”

An improved TapRooT® System definition of a root cause, published in 2006:

“A Root Cause is the absence of
a best practice or the failure to apply knowledge

that would have prevented the problem.”

Using the second definition, the answer to the question,”What is root cause analysis?” is:

“The process of finding the missing
best practices or knowledge
needed to prevent a problem.”

That is a simple answer! But root cause analysis may seem more complex. Why? According to Admiral Rickover, the devil is in the details.

Rickover - Devil is in the details

How Simple is Root Cause Analysis?

Many say you can use a simple root cause analysis technique, like 5-Whys, to perform a root cause analysis. Who says that? The authors of these articles say so:

5 Whys: The Ultimate Root Cause Analysis Tool

The 5 Whys Process We Use to Understand the Root of Any Problem

Determine the Root Cause: 5 WHYS

We don’t agree.

In several articles, we have explained the problems with 5-Whys. Why 5-Whys DOESN’T work for root cause analysis. Want to be convinced of the inadequacies of 5-Whys? Read this post:

Comparing 5-Why with Advanced Root Cause Analysis

But an even simpler explanation of why you can’t use 5-Whys to find root causes is that it doesn’t lead you beyond your current knowledge. And Albert Einstien said:

“It’s impossible to solve significant problems
using the same level of knowledge that created them.”


If, even after Einstien’s advice if you aren’t convinced that you need something more to perform a root cause analysis, then read this article about the fundamentals of root cause analysis:

Fundamentals of Root Cause Analysis

You will see that 5-Whys doesn’t meet the fundamental requirements of root cause analysis.

What is Simple Root Cause Analysis? 

For simple root cause analysis, we recommend TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis. Why? Because it is a guided root cause system that helps you solve human performance and equipment reliability problems. We spent over 35 years developing and improving TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis to make it an international best practice for root cause analysis.

Why does TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis work well for simple root cause analysis? Because it meets all the requirements of the fundamentals of root cause analysis. Its expert systems guide your investigation and root cause analysis.

TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis has two processes – a simple process for simple incident root cause analysis (precursor incidents) and a more complete process for major investigation root cause analysis (major accidents with high consequences).

The first process for simple incidents (low-to-moderate risk) is shown below…

Simple root cause analysis process

One important part of this simple root cause analysis process is that it uses all the essential TapRooT® Tools and provides investigators with a way to save time and effort if they find, early on, that there is nothing to be learned from further investigation. Once they have the initial information on their SnapCharT® Diagram, they can STOP the investigation if they decide there really isn’t anything important to learn.

What is Root Cause Analysis for Major Accidents?

The root cause analysis process for a major accident investigation is shown below…

Major root cause analysis process

This root cause analysis process for a major accident has all the TapRooT® Tools (essential and optional) and even looks for Generic Causes.

Important TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis Tools

What TapRooT® Tools make these processes so special? These four tools provide a basis for advanced root cause analysis…

  • The SnapCharT® Diagram
  • The Equifactor® Troubleshooting Tables
  • The Root Cause Tree® Diagram and Dictionary
  • The Corrective Action Helper® Guide/Module

The SnapCharT® Diagram helps you collect and organize information to help you understand what happened.

The Equifactor® Troubleshooting Tables help you understand what happened to cause equipment failures.

The Root Cause Tree® Diagram guides you to the root causes of human performance and equipment reliability issues and includes the Human Performance Troubleshooting Guide.

TapRooT® Root Cause Tree®

The Corrective Action Helper® Guide/Module helps you develop effective fixes based on best practices from around the world.

corrective action

All of these tools, plus the optional TapRooT® Techniques, are included in the patented TapRooT® Software.

Of course, that’s just the start of what makes the TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis System an international best practice.

To download a white paper that describes the TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis System in more detail, click on the picture below…

TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis White Paper

Now is the Time To Learn More About Root Cause Analysis!

For a complete description of how to use the TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis System to investigate precursor incidents, read the book, Using the Essential TapRooT® Techniques to Investigate Low-to-Medium Risk Incidents.

For a complete description of using TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis to investigate major accidents, read the book, Using TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis for Major Investigations.

And to learn how to investigate precursor incidents and major accidents, attend our 5-Day TapRooT® Advanced Root Cause Analysis Team Leader Training. See the dates and locations of upcoming public 5-Day Courses being held around the world by CLICKING HERE.

Want to hold a root cause analysis course at your site? We can help! Contact us by CLICKING HERE. Then have your whole staff learn, “What is root cause analysis?” and how to use the best root cause analysis – TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis – to find and fix the real root causes of accidents, precursor incidents, quality issues, equipment failures, cost overruns, and operational issues.

If you would like to discuss what makes TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis so special, get a demo of the TapRooT® Software, and learn how your site can implement TapRooT® RCA to improve performance, call one of our TapRooT® Implementation Advisors at 865-539-2139 or CLICK HERE to contact us.

TapRooT® Implementation Advisors
Root Cause Analysis, Root Cause Analysis Tips
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