July 29, 2019 | Mark Paradies

What is Root Cause Analysis? – Updated!

What is Root Cause Analysis? The Answer Starts with a Definition.

What is root cause analysis? How do you find root causes?

Of course, finding a root cause depends on what you are looking for. And that depends on your definition of a root cause.

So, before you start reading about “What is root cause analysis?” … You should probably read this post about the definition of a root cause (CLICK HERE).

Or, to save time, here is our first root cause definition followed by the modern root cause definition.

First, the original, early 1990s, TapRooT® 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.”

But in 2006, we published a new, improved definition of a root cause:

“A Root Cause is the absence of
a best practice or the failure to apply knowledge

that would have prevented the problem.”

Therefore, by using the second definition, the answer to the question: “What is root cause analysis?” is:

“The process of finding the missing
best practices or knowledge
needed to prevent a problem.”

That is a simple answer to the question: :What is a root cause?

But finding a root causes isn’t simple. The devil is in the details.

How Simple Can Root Cause Analysis Get?

Many say that you can use a simple technique like 5-Whys to perform a root cause analysis. In several articles, we have explained the problems with this idea and why 5-Whys doesn’t work for root cause analysis. If you want to be convinced of the inadequacies of 5-Whys, read this post:

Comparing 5-Why Results with
TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis Results

But an even simpler explanation of the reason why you can’t use 5-Whys is that it doesn’t lead you beyond your current knowledge. And Albert Einstien said:

“It’s impossible to solve significant problems
using the same level of knowledge that created them.”

If even after Einstien’s advice, you aren’t convinced that you need something more to perform a root cause analysis, read this aricle about the fundamentals of root cause analysis:


Simple Root Cause Analysis Using TapRooT®

Why do we recommend TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis? Because it is a guided root cause system that helps you solve human performance and equipment reliability problems. We spent more than 30 years developing and improving TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis to make it an international best practice for root cause analysis.

Why does TapRooT® work so well? Because it is a combination of two processes and the best practices to guide your investigation and root cause analysis.

Let’s start with the two processes – a simple process for simple incidents (precursor incidents) and a more complete process for major investigation (big accidents with high consequences).


One important part of this simple process is that it uses all the essential TapRooT® Tools and provides investigators with a way to save time and effort if they find, early on, that there is nothing to be learned from the further investigation. Once they have the initial information on their SnapCharT®, they cab STOP the investigation if they decide there really isn’t anything important to learn.

Root Cause Analysis for Major Accidents

The process for major investigations looks like this…

This process for major investigations has all the TapRooT® Tools (essential and optional) and even looks for Generic Causes.

TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis Tools

What TapRooT® Tools make these processes so special? I would say four things:

  • The SnapCharT® Diagram
  • The Equifactor® Troubleshooting Tables
  • The Root Cause Tree® Diagram
  • The Corrective Action Helper® Guide/Module

The SnapCharT® helps you collect and organize information to help you understand what happened.

The Equifactor® Troubleshooting Tools help you understand what happened to cause equipment failures.

The Root Cause Tree® Diagram guides you to the root causes of human performance and equipment reliability issues.

The Corrective Action Helper® Guide/Module helps you develop effective fixes based on vest practices from around the world.

Of course, that’s just the start of what makes the TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis System an international best practice.

For a short white paper that describes the TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis Tools, see:


If You Understand “What is Root Cause Analysis?” … Now is the Time To Learn More!

For a more complete description of how to use the TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis System to investigate precursor incidents, read the book, Using the Essential TapRooT® Techniques to Investigate Low-to-Medium Risk Incidents.

For a complete description of using TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis to investigate major accidents, read the book, Using TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis for Major Investigations.

And to learn how to investigate both precursor incidents and major accidents, attend our 5-Day TapRooT® Advanced Root Cause Analysis Team Leader Training. See the dates and locations of upcoming public 5-Day Courses being held around the world:


Want to hold a root cause analysis course at your site? Contact us by CLICKING HERE.

Root Cause Analysis, Root Cause Analysis Tips
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