Root Cause Analysis and Improvement Strategies

In Chapter 5 we discussed several useful tools and methods for the collection and analysis of process data. Lean tools and methods were discussed at the beginning of Chapter 5, and simple analytical tools were presented at the end of the chapter. In this section we will discuss a general methodology useful for root cause analysis of process problems. This methodology is like many improvement initiatives that start with a well-defined business case, problem statement, and goal that focuses on data collection and analysis to identify solutions to eliminate the root causes of a problem.

It is very easy to get wrong this first foundational step of a project. This occurs when a project team is not diverse, does not use effective facilitation and methods, and does not effectively communicate. It is important an improvement team fully discusses all aspects of the process problem prior to moving off on the root cause analysis. This is done by gathering all available information related to the problem and assigning roles and responsibilities to team members. It is important to have a facilitator at team meetings. The root cause analysis must drive all process improvements to ensure a projects success. The improvement team must prove a causal relationship between the project metrics and those of the root causes so the improvements can be measured when changes are made to the process. Countermeasures that require a high degree of manual intervention will also require standardization of procedures, implementation of training programs, and process audits. In addition, the relevant part of the process should be mistake-proofed to the highest extent possible. The result of these activities will be an improved measurement system, enhanced metric, and process status reporting as well as a detailed process control plan.

Chapter 5 discussed a canceled order example. As an improvement team collects and analyzes data for the reasons for canceled orders, their root cause analysis extends down to lower levels. This concept is shown in Figure 6.1, which is based on Tables 5.5 through 5.7 that showed canceled orders were the major root cause of high inventory investment. Analyzing canceled orders to the next lower level shows that late deliveries are the next, second level root cause of high inventory investment. At this point in the investigation, the team could update the projects scope to focus on late deliveries. The root cause analysis continues to identify the reasons for


Root Cause Analysis: Levels 1,2, and 3


Countermeasures at Third Level

Root Cause

Incorrect Invoice

Carrier Issue

Customer Not Notified


System match to customer zip code

Assign a specific load/unload time for each carrier.

Send an automatic email to customer when order is shipped.


$ 76,199



Start Date




Project Cost

S 10,000

$ 6,000

$ 25,000






Team 1

Team 4

Team 3

late deliveries. Table 6.2 shows that countermeasures or improvements are applied at the third level root causes of high inventory investment. This table also shows that implementation costs for each solution are subtracted from the savings that each countermeasure contributes. Benefits are gained when improvements can be executed according to the schedule. It is important that the financial numbers are linked back to the original estimates in the project charter.

The improvement team will also need to show evidence to the process owner and leadership that the improvements are effective and sustainable. Figure 6.2 shows a visual approach to demonstrate improvement. The graphs discussed in Chapter 5 can be updated to also show the before and after improvement results. The graphs will need to be supported with quantification and other proof of improvement. The top graph in Figure 6.2 shows processing time from Figure 5.17 in a different perspective. The lower graph is downtime percentage using data from Figure 5.4.

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