3 Common Excuses for Not Performing Root Cause Analysis

Tor Idhammar, IDCON INC
Tags: condition monitoring, root cause analysis

Most people know what is good for them. We know it is better to eat vegetables than cookies and chips. We know it is healthier to exercise than watch TV. How come the cookies and chips are flying off shelves while the veggies whither?

How come the average person spends 20-some hours in front of the TV while we struggle to get one single hour of exercise in a week? The answer is that we don’t do what is best for us. We more often do what we feel like and what is easy.

The same logic applies to plants and mills. For example, most everyone agrees that we should fix the root causes of problems rather than the symptoms. However, most of us don’t fix the root causes of problems.

We keep repairing breakdowns and patching problems with temporary solutions year in and year out. How come? There are a million excuses, but none of those make any sense if we look at what is best for a company over time. Let’s look at the most common excuses.

1. “There is no time for people to do root cause problem elimination.”

This is a bit more complex than it may seem at first glance. Most companies are caught in a catch-22 situation where there are so many breakdowns and no extra people to do root cause analysis.

In this situation, it is unlikely that root cause is the answer to the plant’s problem. Why? Because people have no time to do root cause analysis. They are too busy fixing problems, and there are usually so many obvious improvements to be done without doing a root cause analysis.

Common examples are to improve alignment, basic lubrication, implement inspection rounds, implement basic planning and scheduling, etc.

Adding more people to solve the situation will, in many cases, just increase cost, since people are used ineffectively due to poor planning and scheduling.

Most frontline people will recognize the problem. Unfortunately, top management often doesn’t understand the problem, or it understands the problem but is pressured to perform a quick fix to the situation.

Either way, the outcome is often to demand cost-cutting very quickly, which means cutting people (contractor first, then the in-house staff), which over the long term just amplifies the problems of being reactive.

The solution is, as mentioned above, usually to implement some basic reliability practices, which in turn will cut cost.

2. “We have tried it, but root cause is too complicated and doesn’t work as a practical tool.”

It is common to see complicated and cumbersome root cause analysis methods that are supplied by advisors to industry. There are many documentation tools in RCA that can be very complicated.

Also, consider that the more complicated the methods are, the more advising time is needed from consultants. If you have had a bad experience with RCA, give it another try with a straight commonsense approach.

3. “People are not doing the analysis right.”

Root cause analysis is not primarily about how problems are documented and what charts you use. It is about basic critical and creative thinking. The thinking concepts are easy, but they are hard for most of us to follow.

It takes practice to become a good root cause analyst and critical thinker. Remember that most people form opinions based on very little information (poor critical thinking).

For instance, if you ask random people how they researched what car to buy, decided who to hire or promote, what party to vote for, what to think about coal fuel vs. wind mills, or even what research was done to select their faith, you will understand that most people have spent their whole lives making decisions primarily on an emotional basis.

Evaluating problems in your plant works the same way. We tend to rush our thinking and make decisions on an emotional basis rather than logical ones.

For example, if a pump is not pumping the required flow, then we decide to change the pump without further information. If a motor is running hot, let’s change it out. If a bearing breaks down, it is a mechanical problem.

These decisions are almost always taken without RCA and very often without any information at all about the actual problem.

It is important to have patience with your peers and work on helping them focus on facts and logic. The thinking patterns for most of us are deeply engrained. It requires practice and a good thinking methodology to break out of the patterns to which we are accustomed.