Root Cause Analysis: The Justification Game

By Bob Latino

March 20, 2020

Reading Time: 4 minutes



Root Cause Analysis: The Justification Game

Root Cause Analysis: The Justification Game Part 2 of 2

Maintenance Solutions

In last month’s introductory article, we discussed some of the barriers to selling not only the concept of Root Cause Analysis (RCA) but also the recommendations generated as a result of these analyses. We also laid the framework for making better predictions by generating and accessing better data—namely predicting our Mean Time between Failure (MTBF) and Mean Time to Restore (MTTR) earlier and, therefore, implementing a fix faster.

Given this background, let’s explore how we can now justify conducting a RCA and implementing the recommendations as a result of the analysis. By and far, conducting a true RCA is viewed as luxury not a necessity. Think about the objections we hear when we offer the idea of gathering RCA teams. What follows is a list of common objections to RCA accompanied by rational justifications that any manager can employ.


We do not have time to do RCA because we are so busy firefighting that we do not have time to analyze why the fires are occurring in the first place or how to prevent their recurrence. If this paradigm is permitted to exist, then the conclusion is that the best we can do is sharpen our response time and accept that the fires are a cost of doing business. How much money is being accepted as the cost of doing business? Hint, how much is your maintenance budget worth?


Maintenance budgets are primarily developed to respond to failures that are expected to occur. Man-hours and materials are assigned and budgeted. Therefore, if it is in the budget, it is not a failure because we have compensated for it. It is a cost of doing business. This does not have to be the case. Just as with safety, we should have a zero tolerance policy with failure. We should question why the things in the budget are acceptable and look at how to eliminate failure.

Secondly, when failures occur that are compensated for in the budget, they oftentimes affect production hours in terms of downtime. The cost of a failure should be measured by the man-hour dollars + material dollars + the lost production dollars. This is a true measure of how much is lost, and subsequently, how much is to be gained. Just because a $50 bearing fails, does not mean that it did not cause $50,000 in lost production.


However, it does seem that we always have the resources to fix the problems that occur daily. If we were to support a RCA effort, the reactive work would decrease over time, as many problems would not exist anymore. This would free up the time of the people that we have as reactors, and better utilize them in proactive activities such as RCA, predictive maintenance, etc.


If this is the prevailing attitude, pack up your RCA bags because these resources will never be made available. This is where management support is a must. We must make accommodations in our work order systems to effectively implement RCA recommendations through assigning them a higher priority. If this is not done, then they are “back burner” items and will likely never get done. This will have resulted in a lot of work on behalf of the RCA team and a lot of cost in their wages while they were on these teams. The larger impact will be on the morale of the team, as they put their best effort forward and no one listened. This is where the program-of-the-month paradigm originates.


In the world of RCA, we must learn the value of the intangibles and their effect on the tangible world. This all revolves around the dollar and all aspects of the organizational system are interdependent to optimize profits.

Here is a list of such intangibles:

  • Lost profit opportunities—the cost of a lost downtime hour on the spot market at that time.
  • World class analytical skills—investing in our people’s skills makes them better decision makers and problem solvers. This allows them to do things once and do them right. How much does it cost to replicate the same activity over and over again?
  • Teamwork—when people work on RCA teams, they gain an appreciation for how other departments perceive given situations. When this occurs, it affects future decision making because they tend to take into consideration why people do what they do. This empathy results in a more synergistic operation and a more educated workforce.
  • Morale—research shows that failure rates tend to be higher in organizations that have poor morale. Why? Because when our workforce feels alienated their focus is distracted with the emotional baggage they carry. This distraction causes errors in decision making which lead to physical failures. By allowing the workforce to demonstrate their knowledge of how the process works and to solve problems utilizing their experience, their morale is improved along with their ownership over their work. How much is this worth to the organization?

These are just a few of the intangible benefits of conducting RCA. Although the returns from the tangibles alone are self-justifying, imagine if we were able to focus the creativity of the workforce towards the betterment of the organization. Remember, we cannot do what we cannot imagine! ◆

About the Author
Robert (Bob) J. Latino is former CEO of Reliability Center, Inc. a company that helps teams and companies do RCAs with excellence.  Bob has been facilitating RCA and FMEA analyses with his clientele around the world for over 35 years and has taught over 10,000 students in the PROACT® methodology.

Bob is co-author of numerous articles and has led seminars and workshops on FMEA, Opportunity Analysis and RCA, as well as co-designer of the award winning PROACT® Investigation Management Software solution.  He has authored or co-authored six (6) books related to RCA and Reliability in both manufacturing and in healthcare and is a frequent speaker on the topic at domestic and international trade conferences.

Bob has applied the PROACT® methodology to a diverse set of problems and industries, including a published paper in the field of Counter Terrorism entitled, “The Application of PROACT® RCA to Terrorism/Counter Terrorism Related Events.”

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