Lean workplaces try to identify the root causes of problems such as defects so those problems can be resolved at the source. Resolving issues at the source ensures energy and time is being spent on the true root of the problem, which will in turn solve the array of associated problems. The process of seeking out causes is often called root cause analysis.
Root cause analysis can be used to solve many types of problems including quality issues with products, safety incidents, productivity, problems with equipment, and more.
When performing root cause analysis, people often use the 5 Whys. This means they ask why something occurred until they arrive at the root cause of the problem. Users should ask why as many times as necessary to get to the root of the problem; 5 isn’t a required number. Another example of a root cause analysis tool is the fishbone diagram. The diagram is shaped like a fish and is a visual representation of the 5 Whys strategy.
Root cause analysis is important because what might seem to be an obvious reason for a problem is typically just a surface reason caused by a larger issue. For example, when assessing why a worker experienced a hand injury, someone might assume it was because the worker didn’t take the time to put on the correct safety gloves. It would be easy to jump to conclusions in this situation and blame the worker, when in reality the root cause of the problem could be that the correct size gloves for the worker weren’t available. This would be a mistake on the company’s part for not stocking appropriate personal protective equipment. Or possibly the worker was wearing safety gloves, but the proper machine guards weren’t placed on the machine. By implementing machine guards or providing the correct PPE and not just using a quick fix, a workplace can avoid injuries in the future and other related issues.