Root Cause Analysis and the Tools You Need to Drive Continuous Improvement

Root Cause Analysis is part of an ecosystem of tools and techniques you can implement to help your organization harness the value from their EHSQ integrated management systems. Improving your organization’s processes requires identifying a methodology and approach that can spur innovation through evidence-based analysis.  

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is one of several methodologies in your toolkit – including Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA), Control Plans and Corrective Actions (CAR or CAPA) – that can be used to uncover the reasons for safety incidents or near misses, occupational health issues, environmental issues like repeated violations and quality events like recalls and nonconformances. Implementing a framework that incorporates multiple analysis tools to achieve a desired outcome can result in measurable results.  

Top Five Tools for Continuous Improvement

These tools can be extremely valuable for performance when used proactively — and in conjunction with one another. Here’s how they might be used together:   

  1. Identify potential failure modes through a Process Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA) exercise, OR experience actual failures or problems in operations, such as an out-of-control event initiated by Statistical Process Control (SPC).  
  2. If the issue is significant or systematic, after containment, launch a Root Cause Analysis (RCA) to investigate how to fix the problem rather than the symptoms.  
  3. When the root cause is determined, consider launching a Corrective Action (CAR or CAPA) to incorporate a more long-term fix.  
  4. Record the new risk profile (Severity, Opportunity, Detection) on the FMEA and see how overall risk has changed as a result of the CAR/CAPA effort.  
  5. Update the Control Plan with new controls for detection and/or prevention, so that this issue (and/or similar issues) don’t occur again.  

Corrective and preventive actions that emerge from taking a more strategic view, rather than finding and fixing symptoms as they occur, include things like improved designs, improved standard operating procedures (SOPs), streamlined processes, improved recordkeeping, better use of data and enhanced response to emerging issues.   

If you don’t use all of these tools yet, there’s no need to worry! Most organizations gradually introduce them one at a time, training staff while validating the results, to ensure that they drive value and become core capabilities. Continuous improvement, after all, is continuous.  

Additional Reading on Improving Quality Management

Radziwill, N. (2018, Nov 19). Quality Architecture in SPC & FMEA: Use Strategic Systems Thinking and Core Tools to Get the Outcomes You Want. Intelex Blog. Available from   

Radziwill, N. (2019). Core Quality Tools Enable Control Plans. Intelex Community. Available from   

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About Nicole Radziwill

Nicole Radziwill is a quality manager and data scientist with more than 20 years leadership experience in software, telecommunications, research infrastructure, and higher education. Prior to joining Intelex, she was an associate professor of data science and production systems at James Madison University, Assistant Director for End to End Operations at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), managed software product development for the Green Bank Observatory (GBO), and managed client engagements for Nortel Networks and Clarify (CRM). She is an ASQ-certified manager of operational excellence (CMQ/OE), an ASQ-certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB), and contributed to the development of ISO 26000—“Guidance on Social Responsibility.”

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