The ‘Soft Side’ of RCA: Management’s Role in ‘Effective’ Training

By Bob Latino

March 20, 2020

Reading Time: 5 minutes


The ‘Soft Side’ of RCA: Management’s Role in ‘Effective’ Training

By Robert J. Latino, CEO, Reliability Center, Inc.

Abstract: In an era of rapidly advancing technology, the need for training to keep up is imperative. But training alone is not the panacea to a facility’s problems. Management’s must be aware that the environment in which their people work, will either progress or obstruct any training that is provided to them. We will refer to our need to address the human element, as the “soft side” of technology. It is estimated that over $60B U.S. is spent on industrial training a year and that only 20% of that training investment is ever applied. Are we getting our money’s worth from our training investment? If not, here are some things to consider when training our personnel and using their valuable time from the field.

I will not focus on RCA methods/techniques in this blog, but rather on the effectiveness of the training in RCA. While I am an educator, author and practitioner of RCA, there are many such people out there who are in the same business. While our means may be different, our ends should be the same; eliminate the risk of recurrence of an undesirable event by identifying all of the systemic root causes, and then taking effective, corrective actions.

Hypothetically, let’s say some form of RCA training has been conducted at a facility. Now what? It has been our experience that corporations tend to use training as managerial therapy. They send a person or group to training and then think they have satisfied the training needs (a ‘checklist mentality’). At this point they are done with their obligations. The training investment turns out to be a waste of money (Are You a Training Statistic? – and counterproductive to the morale of the workforce.

Managerial Responsibilities Related to Supporting Effective Training

1.      There must be a specific purpose for training. Any training provided should be considered within the overall context of the organization. If I am going to provide customer service training, it should link to the corporate vision and subsequent Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). If I am going to provide training in balance and alignment, it should fit into the overall preventive/predictive maintenance strategy. In other words, there should be a purpose and expectation for providing training, and its effectiveness on the bottom-line should be measurable.

2.      There must be an expectation of returns on training. I rarely have found an organization that calculates a Return on Investment (ROI) for their training dollars. Why should training dollars be any different than an engineering or capital project?  I have also rarely seen management’s send letters to student before they go to training outlining their expectations as a result of the training. Is this unreasonable to expect? I tend to find most people attending training see it as a burden, another thing on their plate that management is making them do. In an ideal environment, people would look forward to training as a means of making their work life easier and more efficient (as well as adding to their resumes!). The perception of “burden” comes from the fact that we know, when we get back to our facility, nothing is going to change in the work environment. Therefore, we know we will not be given the time to apply what we just learned and most likely, no one will be expecting it. This type of thinking that develops, is what contributes to what I call, “the donut crowd”. They come to training because they get break foods, maybe lunch (if they’re lucky) and time off the field. They know when they go back, no one will care whether they use the learning or not. There is usually no negative consequence for NOT applying the new learning. Is this the student’s fault?

3.      Time must be given to practice the new learning. If the new training is viewed as an additional task, it is less likely to be implemented by the student. If management requires that the supervisors provide the students 10% (or some quantifiable number) of their work week to demonstrate use of the new learning, then there is an incentive to be successful. This is a managerial task because it requires involvement of directives to supervisors, to reallocate work distributions. It also sets expectations to the students that management expects results.

4.      Monthly reviews of progress should be implemented.  Management should set aside a short monthly meeting to hear updates on the current and proposed RCA’s progress (or digress). Management should be the mentor or Sponsor of the initiative and therefore be interested in its bottom-line success. This will also set the expectations to the students that they must have something to report when they meet with the boss. This type of meeting will assist with tracking actual overall results versus defined expectations, and therefore the overall effectiveness of the effort.

5.      Management education. One of the most common questions we hear in our training is, “Has my manager been through this training before?” And unfortunately, the answer is usually NO. How can someone support something they have not learned? Many managers feel if they send people to a course on RCA, the student will be an expert investigator leaving the classroom and they can produce accurate results in a matter of hours or days. The fact of the matter is, that is the furthest thing from the truth. They will require practice, like anything else, in order to become proficient. They will likely take longer to produce accurate results because they must validate each of their hypotheses. Management must realize that supporting such an effort requires knowledge on their part of what their people will have to endure, in order to do the job right the first time.

6.      Management kick-off of classes. Though management may not realize it, their presence does indicate value. Conversely, their lack of presence indicates lack of value. It will only take about ten minutes, but its effects will be long lasting. Managers charged with supporting such an effort should kick-off each RCA class their people attend. The kick-off speech should state their support for the training, their knowledge of the course content, their expectations for results and their appreciation for the attendance and support of the students. This is very simple, yet it is still not the norm in our experience.

7.      Providing resources to assist students. Conducting a proper RCA requires the utilization of resources that we may or may not have access to. It is management’s responsibility to provide the RCA students with access to experts, within and outside the company, to help them prove their hypotheses. Validation resources might include labs (chemical and metallurgical), engineering disciplines, nondestructive testing techniques, and interviews with witnesses, etc. If the RCA is to be accurate, such validations will be required to prove hypotheses as facts or not.

8.      Getting recommendations approved. Once an RCA is completed, recommendations for corrective action will be the result. Management must review these recommendations quickly and approve or disapprove of them. If approved, appropriate time lines must be set and monitored. If not approved, then immediate feedback should be provided to the originator as soon as possible, and in a constructive manner. This way the next time a recommendation is submitted, those considerations will be taken into account. Bottom-line results can only be obtained if recommendations are permitted to be implemented and then monitored for effectiveness.

9.      Getting approved recommendations implemented. Just because a recommendation is approved does not necessarily mean that it will be implemented. Most computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) or like work order systems, carry a backlog of work to be executed. This backlog is generally work of a reactive nature. A recommendation from a RCA is generally going to be viewed as proactive work and therefore a low priority in a reactive work order system. This means that valid, approved recommendations may sit on the back burner indefinitely. Management must make accommodations in the work order system that allocates a certain % of resources to handle the proactive work that comes into the system. Otherwise the training investment and the hard work of the analysts will have been for nothing.

These are just a few of the tasks involved with the “soft side” of implementing critical initiatives such as RCA. Reliability Center, Inc. (RCI) provides various training offerings which incorporate these vital ‘human’ considerations into how to support any training efforts. Visit our website at to learn more.

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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