What is Root Cause Analysis and How Can It Streamline Your Business?

A reactive maintenance strategy simply means when something breaks, you fix it. Many maintenance departments still use reactive maintenance today.

However, maintenance managers know the difference between fixing something and understanding why it broke. 

Organizations use root cause analysis as a tool to solve, and eventually prevent, underlying issues rather than putting out fires when something breaks. Maintenance personnel use these same principles in their work too, although sometimes more instinctively.

Let’s talk about how root cause analysis can streamline your business, and help improve your maintenance strategy.

Root Cause Analysis Explained

Root cause analysis refers to the process of discovering the root causes of problems in order to identify appropriate solutions. 

This concept likely sounds very familiar to maintenance professionals because of the nature of maintenance work. 

For example, experienced maintenance techs can repair an asset and also understand the reason it broke in the first place. That firsthand knowledge gained from experience is the basis of root cause analysis in plant maintenance. It’s just a more formal process.

How to Perform a Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis in plant maintenance can show where a failure occurred and why. That requires…

  1. Identifying the root cause of the failure
  2. Understanding how to fix the problem
  3. Applying this knowledge to prevent future failures

This type of primary source analysis fits naturally in the maintenance department. Let’s take a simple, yet common issue—changing the fluid or oil in a piece of equipment. You can apply root cause analysis in this situation with this five-step process.

  1. Identify the problem. An asset failed. During a principal trigger inspection, you determine the viscosity of a lubricating oil or fluid has degraded. This degradation caused a part to overheat and fail, the equipment became unusable, and production stopped.
  2. Collect data. Next, you collect data on the failure. In our simple example, you note that the fluid was not replaced in a timely manner. Using CMMS software, you know exactly what occurred and when—or what didn’t occur and should have. 
  3. Confirm the cause of the failure. After collecting the data, you confirm the cause of the failure. In this case, you recognize the symptoms of overheating due to a lack of lubrication, and then verify the cause.
  4. Identify the solution. It’s possible there’s more than one solution, or a solution requires multiple steps. Additionally, you may have to prioritize solutions. In this case, you decide establishing or adjusting the PM schedule to replace the fluid is the most logical first step.
  5. Monitor and verify the solution. Again, you need good data here. CMMS software can help you track maintenance tasks and the results. In this case, you schedule inspections to make sure your solution worked and pull historical reports on the maintenance work at specific time periods.

What Are the “5 Whys” of Root Cause Analysis?

Root cause analysis requires understanding the “why” of a failure. But, as maintenance professionals know, failures can have multiple causes—and one failure can be the cause of another.

Continuing with our simple example, we can dig deeper using the 5 “whys” to get to the heart of the matter.

Why #1: Why did the equipment fail?

Answer: A part overheated.

Why #2: Why did the part overheat?

Answer: The fluid or oil deteriorated to the point that the lack of lubrication caused the part to overheat.

Why #3: Why did the fluid or oil deteriorate?

Answer: It wasn’t changed at the recommended time.

Why #4: Why wasn’t it changed?

Answer: The PM was missed or not scheduled.

Why #5: Why was the PM missed or not scheduled?

Answer: The schedule wasn’t set up properly in the CMMS software.

Asking “why” eventually leads to the solution—in this case setting up a schedule or improving the notification process.

Note that while we went through five “whys,” you could go through more. For example,

Why #6: Why wasn’t the schedule set up properly in the CMMS software?

Answer: The team wasn’t properly trained and made a mistake.

Note that each “why” has a partial solution. Getting to the root of the failure, however, prevents it from happening again. 

Using Root Cause Analysis to Improve Maintenance

Root cause analysis helps the maintenance team move from reactive to proactive maintenance. As a result, you can make better use of your team’s time and resources.

CMMS software helps with accurate information on what’s impacting productivity, profitability, and corporate. And with that increased capability comes increased opportunity to improve organizational performance at all levels, including the maintenance department. 

CMMS software is the best tool you have for gathering, analyzing, and reporting data about your equipment and your team. And by using that data, you can make decisions based on hard evidence, instead of perceptions or assumptions. 

Best of all, the cumulative nature of CMMS data means you can ask different questions in the future—ones you might not even think about today.

Find out how MPulse CMMS software can help your maintenance team use root cause analysis. Leave a comment or contact us.