Old Fashioned Definition of Root Cause vs. Modern Definition of Root Cause
When we first started the development of TapRooT® back in the 1980s, we developed this definition of a root cause:
The most basic cause (or causes)
that can reasonably be identified
that management has control to fix
and, when fixed, will prevent
(or significantly reduce the likelihood of)
the problem’s recurrence.
The modern definition of a root cause, which was proposed in 2006 by Mark Paradies at the Global TapRooT® Summit and really isn’t so new, is:
The absence of best practices
or the failure to apply knowledge
that would have prevented the problem.
This modern definition of a root cause leads to this definition of root cause analysis:
Root Cause Analysis
The search for the best practices
and/or the missing knowledge that
will keep a problem from recurring.
Since most people (including, in the past, me) say that root cause analysis is the search for why something failed, this reversal of thinking toward looking for how to make something succeed is truly a powerful way of thinking. The idea changes the concept of root cause analysis.
Even though a decade had passed since proposing this new definition, I still have people ask:
“Why did you change the definition? I liked it like it was!“
Therefore, I thought that with the new TapRooT® Books coming out, I would explain our reasoning to show the clear advantage of the modern definition.
The modern definition focuses on the positive. You will search for best practices and knowledge. You aren’t looking for people to blame or management faults. Yes, a best practice or knowledge is missing, but you are going to find out how to do the work more reliably. Thus, the focus is on improvement … the opportunity to improve vision!
The same thing can be said about the old fashioned definition too. But the old definition focused on cause. The difference in the definitions is a matter of perspective. Looking up at the Empire State Building from the bottom is one perspective. Looking down the Empire State Building from the top is quite another. The old definition looked at the glass as half empty. The new definition looks at the glass as half full. The old definition focuses on the “cause.” The modern definition focuses on the solution.
This shift in thinking leads people to a better understanding of root causes and how to find them. When it is combined with the Root Cause Tree® and Dictionary, the thinking revolutionizes the search for improved performance.
The concept of looking for ways to improve has always been a part of the TapRooT® System. It is the secret that makes TapRooT® such a powerful tool. But the modern definition – the new perspective – makes it easier to explain to others why TapRooT® works so well. TapRooT® is a tool that finds the missing knowledge or best practices that are needed to solve the toughest problems.
One last note about the modern definition: In the real world, absolutes like “will prevent” can seldom be guaranteed. So the root cause definition should probably be augmented with the additional phrase: “or significantly reduce the likelihood of the problem’s recurrence.” We chose not to add this phrase in the definition to keep the message about the new focus as strong as possible. But please be aware that we understand the limits of technology to guarantee absolutes and the ingenuity of people to find ways to cause errors even in well-designed systems.
That’s the reasons for the definition change. You may agree or disagree, but what everyone finds as true is that TapRooT® helps you find and fix the root causes of problems to improve safety, quality, productivity, and equipment reliability.
Attend a TapRooT® Course and find out how TapRooT® can help your company improve performance.