Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis typically consists of the following steps:

  1. Clear definition of the problem to be resolved.
  2. Careful review and verification of currently observed behavior.
  3. Basic review of theoretical behavior (how one would expect the system to behave).
  4. Brainstorming of hypotheses around what it causing the problem.
  5. Creation of experiments to prove/disprove the hypotheses.
  6. Execution and analysis/synthesis of experimental results.
  7. Repetition as needed.

Effectiveness in this process depends on a subtle combination of analytic insight, creativity, intuition/instincts and healthy skepticism. When scant hard evidence is available, people often latch onto their first “hunch” that can shut down valuable avenues of inquiry. While it might sound obvious, I have found an important key in solving these problems has been getting good quality data. This is embodied in step 5, above. In my many years working on R&D and design teams, I have often found among my colleagues general resistance to this step, resulting in a lot of time being spent on fruitless speculation. Perhaps because I have found this step so critical, I have focused intensely on the process of creating effective tests and experiments, and almost always find a fairly simple and rapid way of getting at least enough information to either dismiss a hypothesis or warrant a more in-depth investigation.

With well-honed instincts and technical rigor, I have used the process above time and again to solve even the trickiest technical problems. (See “Case Studies.”) I can work alone or with your team to achieve successful resolution.