January 29, 2007 |

Operations’ and Maintenance’s Role in Root Cause Analysis

At some companies, the operations and maintenance departments are only peripherally involved in root cause analysis. Examples include:

• The Operations Department at a chemical plant that leaves investigations to an independent group but reviews the report and approves the corrective actions.

• A hospital where the Quality & Risk Management Staff do the investigations and the medical and nursing staff are only involved in interviews.

• The Operations Department at a refinery that leaves investigations of safety incidents to the Safety Depart¬ment, doesn’t perform investigations of other types of problems (production/maintenance/quality).

• A manufacturing plant where all root cause analysis is done by the Lean/ Six Sigma Team.

• A nuclear plant Maintenance Shop that doesn’t perform root cause analysis of equipment failures because the system engineers do apparent cause analysis.

• A Production Team at a drug company that leaves safety investigations to the Safety Department and quality issue investigations to the Quality Department.

This arrangement is common. Most line folks “just don’t have time” for root cause analysis. And, after all, isn’t having someone independent looking at your problems a good idea?

Don’t get me wrong, having trained, independent facilitators (safety/quality/lean/ six sigma) can help a facility ask questions that may otherwise be overlooked. But leaving root cause analysis to only independent staff can cause problems.

What types of problems? How can you involve operations and maintenance in a root cause analysis without compromising the investigation? Read on to find out!

Missed Opportunity

If someone independent from operations and maintenance performs the root cause analysis, the operations and maintenance folks, including the management team, miss an opportunity to learn. Even though they may agree to implement corrective actions, they have missed the opportunity to dig into the problem and learn how their organization causes performance (both good and bad performance).

Not Enough Practice

Beyond the missed opportunity to learn more from a single incident, they have also missed an opportunity to learn to improve their root cause analysis skills. If root cause analysis is only applied to infrequently occurring problems (acci¬dents/quality issues), people don’t get enough practice to hone their root cause analysis skills.

Instead, in addition to analysis of safety and quality problems, supervisors and managers should use root cause analysis to analyze process upsets, personnel issues, equipment failures, cost overruns, and observation/audit findings. This will help them vastly improve all of these areas and will give them the practice they need to become experienced analysts.

No Ownership/Buy-In

Perhaps the biggest problem that occurs when operations and management folks aren’t involved in root cause analysis is that they don’t really buy-in to the corrective actions. This is especially significant if the corrective actions need management and supervisor support to change behaviors on the shop floor or in the management suite.

But even simple corrective actions require buy-in from line personnel. Implementation may require budget from operations or maintenance. Also, the leadership of line-management is needed to track and push for completion of corrective actions and to show support for change.

What To Do???

Get operations and maintenance involved in root cause analysis! How?

1. Make sure operations and mainten¬ance people are on the team for large investigations. This should be a part of the company investigation policy. AND make sure that the operations & maintenance personnel are relieved from their regular duties so that they can fully participate.

2. Senior management should insist that maintenance & operations people use root cause analysis techniques to analyze everyday problems. Root cause analysis needs to be applied to more than big accidents.

3. Get ops & maintenance people train¬ed & competent to be root cause team leaders. Use them to lead investiga¬tions outside of their work group.

4. Provide rewards for people who participate in incident investigations. Then operations and maintenance personnel will WANT to be involved.

To make these 4 steps happen, the Plant, Operations, and Maintenance Managers need to be convinced that root cause analysis will help them achieve their objectives. Before you can get operations and maintenance involved in root cause analysis, you will need to get these senior managers to become believers in root cause analysis. Maybe it is time for a root cause analysis course (or presentation) for your management team!

Learn More – Summit

The 2007 TapRooT® Summit (April 25-28, 2007, San Antonio, Texas) has a session titled: “Getting Management to Ask for a TapRooT® Investigation and Other Ways to Get Management Support for Improvement” by Ron Pryor of Alcoa and Michele Lindsay, TapRooT® Instructor. This is a great talk to get ideas to improve line management support for any improvement program (including TapRooT®).

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