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What is root cause analysis?

Lari Numminen

February 11, 2023

Root cause analysis is an effective problem solving tool that helps to identify the main cause of an issue. In data science and engineering it is used to identify the underlying cause of a problem and devise an effective solution. In this simply explained guide, we will look at the steps of root cause analysis, provide examples, and discuss common pitfalls.

What is root cause analysis?

Root cause analysis is the process of discovering the underlying key causes of problems in order to identify appropriate solutions. It is widely used in IT and business operations, manufacturing, and process mining.

Visualization of root cause analysis
Root cause analysis can be seen as the discovery of the core causes of business problems

Steps of Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis can be broken down into six steps.

1. Identifying the problem: the first step is to clearly define the problem. This should be done in a concise manner that clearly outlines the issue.

2. Gathering data: the next step is to gather data related to the issue. This can include documents, interviews, or any other data that can help to identify the root cause.

3. Analyzing data: once the data has been gathered, it should be analyzed to identify patterns or trends that may be related to the issue.

4. Identification of root causes: once the data has been analyzed, the root causes can be identified. This is the key step of the process, as it is the root cause that must be addressed in order to solve the problem.

5. Developing solutions: once the root causes have been identified, solutions can be developed to address the issue.

6. Implementing a solutions: the final step is to implement the solutions and ensure that the issue has been fully resolved.

Examples of Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis can be used in a variety of industries and contexts. Here are a few examples:

  • Healthcare: Root cause analysis can be used in healthcare to identify the cause of medical errors and develop solutions to prevent them.
  • Manufacturing: Root cause analysis can help to identify the cause of production issues and develop solutions to increase efficiency.
  • Services: Root cause analysis can be used to identify and solve problems related to IT services, such as software or hardware issues.
Example of root cause analysis - process variants in accounts payable

Common Pitfalls of Root Cause Analysis

While root cause analysis is a powerful problem solving tool, there are a few common pitfalls to be aware of.

  • Focusing on the symptoms. it is important to avoid focusing on the symptoms of the problem and instead focus on the root cause.
  • Not collecting enough data. it is important to collect enough data to ensure that the root cause is accurately identified.
  • Being too quick to implement solutions. It is important to take the time to develop effective solutions that address the root cause.
  • Too much focus on happy path. In business process improvement, you often have an idealized 'happy path' describing how processes should work that is not tied to reality of complex business organizations.


Root cause analysis is a powerful problem solving tool that can help organizations quickly identify and solve issues. By breaking down the process into six steps, organizations can ensure that they are effectively identifying and addressing the root cause of the issue. Additionally, it is important to be aware of common pitfalls, such as focusing on the symptoms, not collecting enough data, and being too quick to implement solutions. By following these steps and avoiding common pitfalls, organizations can ensure they are effectively using root cause analysis to solve problems.

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For more, see BPM Glossary

Written by

Lari Numminen

Chief Marketing Fellow