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How Do You Measure the Effectiveness of Root Cause Analysis?

By Sam McNair, P.E., CMRP

Four Ways to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Root Cause Analysis Process

People often define the sole measure of success for Root Cause Analysis (RCA) as being able to "kill" the problem forever. But does that mean dead at any cost? How big are the problems we are solving? Are we trapping mice (forever chasing irritating little problems) or hunting big game (only responding to major events)? Forever is a long time. Is one re-occurrence per 100 years good enough? And is the true objective the analysis, or the actions that follow?

It is important to distinguish between performing an individual RCA (using a tool) and the business process of systematically performing RCAs that supports any effective loss elimination, failure elimination, or continuous improvement program. Excellent training is available for any of the more than 100 documented RCA tools in use. This discussion is limited to measuring the effectiveness of RCA as a business process intended to produce business results. We do RCA because of the desire for good business results which include protecting people, the environment and our profits.

Please keep in mind that an RCA can be performed both reactively and proactively. We are all familiar with the reactive mode of performing a Root Cause of FAILURE Analysis (RCFA). But do you know that RCA adds most value when it is used proactively? One such proactive example is when developing solutions to address potential failure modes identified by risk analysis tools such as Opportunity Analysis (OA) or Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA). Even when performed in reaction to a failure, if your RCA process is effective, the findings of an RCA can be applied proactively to similar assets, products, and situations, thus preventing failures from occurring elsewhere.

If you are near the top of your class in business, most of your RCA should be focused on eliminating chronic, money-stealing, minor events (the financial equivalent of safety "near misses") as well as addressing adverse trends in any performance, instead of being reactive and doing RCA only when large or disastrous events occur. Very often, having to perform an RCA on a major disaster is merely painful validation that the system was not truly under control to start with. RCA on disastrous events should be very rare.

In the business process of RCA, program effectiveness is measured using several metrics, also known as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). The most useful metrics are leading indicators of correct behaviors. Lagging indicators or metrics are part of the feedback loop for the overall process and behaviors system. They are also known as “the bottom line.” What follows are examples of the primary KPIs that, if used properly, will keep your finger firmly on the pulse of your RCA process by answering these vital questions:

  1. Is every event that meets or exceeds the published RCFA trigger criteria receiving an RCFA, and is the RCA being initiated within the specified time frame? The critical KPI to measure here is start interval compliance: This is the number of RCAs started within the required specified interval after the trigger is pulled, as a percentage of the total number of events that pull the RCA trigger.
  2. Are 100% of all approved corrective actions specified in an RCFA being completed on or before the published date? On-time Corrective Completion, is one of the most critical KPIs to have, and the most difficult one to manage. This KPI is the number of approved RCA corrective actions completed on or before their specified dates, divided by the number of corrective actions having due dates within the measurement time frame. This should always be near 100%.
  3. Have all the criteria that were specified to measure success of the corrective actions been measurably met? The critical KPI to measure, Success Rate, is, for each RCA, the actual percentage of each stated improvement goal that was reached, measured over the specified audit period.
  4. What is the net return on investment of the RCFA / Loss Elimination Program? How much did you save (the avoided cost of the ongoing incidents) versus the total cost to perform the RCFA plus the cost of the corrective actions? The final (lagging) KPI, but the one most critical to sustaining your RCA program, is simple Return on Investment (ROI). It is the cost of the ongoing incidents eliminated / (Cost of the RCFA + Cost of corrective actions.)

Ultimately RCA is all about improving your bottom line in safety, environmental compliance, and profitability.

Four Ways to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Root Cause Analysis Process

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