5 Root Cause Analysis Examples That Shed Light on Complex Issues

Updated: April 23, 2024

Reading Time: 7 minutes


With over two decades in business – spanning strategy consulting, tech startups, and executive leadership – I am committed to helping your organization thrive.

At Reliability, we’re on a mission to help enhance strategic decision-making and operational excellence through the power of Root Cause Analysis, and I hope this article will be helpful! 

Our goal is to help you better understand root cause analysis by offering insights and practical tips based on years of experience. Whether you’re new to doing RCAs or a seasoned pro, we trust this will be useful in your journey towards working hard and working smart.


When it comes to addressing complex issues, Root Cause Analysis can help with identifying the underlying factors that contribute to problems. But what exactly is Root Cause Analysis and why should we care about it?

What is Root Cause Analysis?

At its core, Root Cause Analysis involves delving deep into an issue to identify the fundamental reason behind it. This method goes beyond simply addressing surface-level symptoms and aims to uncover the underlying causes that lead to recurring problems. By understanding these root causes, organizations can implement targeted solutions that prevent issues from resurfacing.

Why Should You Care?

The significance of Root Cause Analysis becomes evident when we consider its real-life impact. Through this approach, businesses and industries have witnessed a significant reduction in the recurrence of issues, leading to improved process efficiency and decreased downtime. Moreover, by accurately identifying root causes, organizations have been able to enhance product quality and track the time taken to address underlying issues effectively.

Furthermore, monitoring customer satisfaction and feedback after implementing corrective actions has demonstrated the tangible benefits of Root Cause Analysis. Notably, this proactive approach has decreased the number of incidents and associated costs across various sectors.

In essence, embracing Root Cause Analysis isn’t just about troubleshooting; it’s about fostering a culture of continuous improvement by addressing issues at their core. Here are 5 examples of root cause analysis that shed light on complex issues:

Example 1: Engineering – Bridge Collapse

A bridge unexpectedly collapsed, causing significant damage and disrupting transportation. The RCA revealed that the cause was a design flaw in the bridge’s suspension system, which failed to account for the weight distribution under specific conditions. The solution involved redesigning the suspension system and implementing more rigorous testing procedures for future projects.

Root Cause Found: A detailed analysis revealed that the root cause of the bridge collapse was a critical design flaw in the suspension system. Specifically, the design did not adequately account for the dynamic load distribution caused by varying traffic patterns and environmental conditions.

Technique Used: The engineering team employed the Fault Tree Analysis (FTA) technique, which helped them systematically trace the failure path back to the original design flaw.

  • Define the Problem: the unexpected bridge collapse resulting from a design flaw in the suspension system.
  • Identify the Top Event: The primary undesired outcome, the bridge collapse, is the focal point of investigation.
  • Identify Contributing Factors: List all potential factors contributing to the collapse, such as design flaws, material defects, environmental factors, and human error. Given the prior identification of a design flaw, focus efforts on analyzing specific elements of the suspension system design.
  • Construct the Fault Tree: Develop a fault tree diagram to visually represent the logical relationships between the top event and contributing factors. Include events such as “suspension system failure,” “dynamic load imbalance,” and “inadequate material strength.”
  • Identify Primary and Secondary Causes: Distinguish between primary causes (directly leading to the top event) and secondary causes (contributing to primary causes). Highlight the design flaw in the suspension system as the primary cause, with secondary causes potentially including inadequate testing procedures or oversight of environmental conditions.
  • Analyze the Fault Tree: Evaluate the fault tree to prioritize the most likely paths to the top event. This analysis guides the focus toward addressing critical factors to prevent similar failures in the future.

Solution: To address this issue, the suspension system was redesigned to incorporate more robust materials and a more flexible structure that could accommodate varying loads. Additionally, the team introduced more rigorous testing protocols, including simulations and stress tests, to ensure the new design could withstand real-world conditions.

Example 2: Mining – Equipment Failure

A mining company faced recurring failures of critical equipment, leading to downtime and lost productivity. The RCA identified that the root cause was the use of substandard materials in the equipment’s components. As a result, the company implemented stricter quality control measures for material selection and increased the frequency of maintenance checks to detect and address potential issues early.

Root Cause Found: The recurring equipment failures were traced back to the use of substandard materials in critical components, which were prone to wear and tear under harsh mining conditions.

Technique Used: The team used the 5 Whys technique, asking “why” repeatedly until they reached the root cause of the problem, which was the procurement of low-quality materials.

  • Why did the equipment fail?
  • Why were the critical components failing?
  • Why were substandard materials used in the critical components?
  • Why were there issues in the procurement process?
  • Why were there insufficient quality control measures in place?
  • Answer: There were insufficient quality control measures because the company did not prioritize or implement rigorous checks for material quality during procurement.

Solution: The mining company implemented stricter quality control measures for material procurement and increased the frequency of maintenance checks. They also established partnerships with reputable suppliers to ensure that all materials met the required standards.

Example 3: Manufacturing – Product Defects

A manufacturing plant experienced a high rate of product defects, affecting customer satisfaction and sales. The RCA found that the root cause was a misalignment in the assembly line, causing inconsistencies in the final product. The solution involved realigning the assembly line and introducing regular calibration checks to ensure consistent product quality.

Root Cause Found: The investigation revealed that a misalignment in the assembly line was causing inconsistencies in the final product, leading to defects.

Technique Used: The Cause and Effect Diagram (the Ishikawa or Fishbone Diagram) was used to identify potential factors contributing to the product defects, ultimately pinpointing the assembly line misalignment.

  • Identify the Problem: Recognize the high rate of product defects affecting customer satisfaction and sales.
  • Define the Effect: Clearly define the problem statement. In this case, it would be the high rate of product defects.
  • Brainstorm Potential Causes: Generate potential causes such as human error, equipment malfunction, etc.
  • Create the Diagram and Categorize Causes: Construct a ‘Cause and Effect’ Diagram representing potential causes. Group potential causes into categories like equipment, process, people, etc.
  • Identify Root Causes: Drill down to specific root causes within each category.
  • Verify Root Causes and Develop Solutions: Confirm root causes through data analysis, observation, and brainstorming solutions

Solution: The assembly line was realigned, and regular calibration checks were introduced to maintain alignment. The manufacturing plant also implemented a quality control system that included random sampling and inspection of products at various stages of production.

Example 4: Healthcare – Medication Errors

A hospital reported an increase in medication errors, posing a risk to patient safety. The RCA determined that the root cause was a lack of standardized procedures for medication administration. The hospital implemented a standardized protocol, including double-checks and electronic medication management systems, to reduce the risk of errors.

Root Cause Found: The RCA identified a lack of standardized procedures for medication administration as the root cause, leading to inconsistencies and errors in dosing and delivery.

Technique Used: The healthcare team used the Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) technique to systematically evaluate the medication administration process and identify areas where errors could occur.

  • Establishing the FMEA Team: A multidisciplinary team was assembled, led by a designated leader.
  • Define the Scope: The scope was narrowed to focus on the hospital’s medication administration process.
  • Identifying Failure Modes: Potential failure modes within medication administration were systematically identified.
  • Assessing Effects: Each failure mode’s impact on patient safety and outcomes was evaluated.
  • Determining Causes and Assigning Ratings: Root causes contributing to each failure mode were analyzed. Severity, occurrence, and detection ratings were assigned to each failure mode.
  • Calculating RPNs: Risk Priority Numbers were computed to prioritize attention to high-risk failure modes.
  • Developing Mitigation Strategies: Strategies were devised to reduce occurrence, enhance detection, and minimize impact.

Solution: The hospital implemented a standardized medication administration protocol, which included steps like double-checking medication orders, using electronic medication management systems, and providing additional training to staff. This helped to reduce the risk of errors and improve patient safety.

Example 5: Businesses – Customer Complaints

A company noticed a spike in customer complaints regarding its service. The RCA revealed that the root cause was inadequate training of customer service representatives. The company addressed the issue by revamping its training program, focusing on communication skills and product knowledge, significantly reducing complaints.

Root Cause Found: The increase in customer complaints was traced back to inadequate training of customer service representatives, leading to poor communication and misunderstanding of product features.

Technique Used: The team used the Pareto Analysis technique to categorize the complaints and identify the most common issues, which pointed to gaps in the training program.

  • Data Collection: Gathered customer complaints data.
  • Categorization: Classified complaints into different types.
  • Frequency Count: Tally occurrences for each category.
  • Cumulative Percentage: Calculated cumulative frequency and percentage.
  • Pareto Chart: Constructed a chart to visualize key issues.
  • Identified Priorities: Focused on vital few categories causing most complaints.
  • Action Plan: A revamped training program to address the root cause.

Solution: The company revamped its training program, focusing on enhancing the communication skills, product knowledge, and problem-solving abilities of the customer service team. They also introduced regular assessments and feedback sessions to ensure continuous improvement.

In each of these examples, RCA provided a systematic approach to identifying and addressing the underlying causes of problems. By implementing effective solutions, these industries were able to improve their operations, enhance safety, and increase customer satisfaction.

Applications Beyond Individual Operations

The application of Root Cause Analysis extends beyond individual operations; it underscores the importance of proactive risk management and continuous improvement in industrial settings.

By understanding and addressing the root causes of safety incidents, companies can mitigate risks, prevent accidents, and ensure the well-being of their workforce. Moreover, the lessons learned from applying Root Cause Analysis in safety can be extrapolated to other industries, emphasizing the value of systematic problem-solving and proactive safety measures.

In essence, Root Cause Analysis serves as a vital tool for enhancing industrial safety, empowering organizations to identify and address the underlying factors that contribute to safety incidents. This approach not only protects employees from harm but also promotes operational efficiency and sustainability in the long run.

By integrating this problem-solving technique into your decision-making processes, you’ll navigate challenges effectively. Embrace opportunities for growth by dissecting root causes and devising targeted solutions as you navigate through both professional and personal journeys.


I hope you found these examples of root cause analysis insightful and actionable! Stay tuned for more thought-provoking articles as we continue to share our knowledge. Success is rooted in a thorough understanding and consistent application, and we hope this article was a step in unlocking the full potential of Root Cause Analysis for your organization.

Reliability runs initiatives such as an online learning center focused on the proprietary PROACT® RCA methodology and EasyRCA.com software. For additional resources, visit Reliability Resources.


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