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5 Root Cause Analysis Tools For Better Testing & QA

When there is an issue that needs analysis, a company needs to use root cause analysis tools to look beyond a few symptoms.  You need a root cause analysis report to find the actual cause of the issue so the underlying systems and processes can be repaired, and the problem is addressed with a permanent fix rather than just a temporary one. 

What is Root Cause Analysis?

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a technique used to find answers as to why a problem has happened. It works to name the origin of the problem using tools to follow a set of steps that identify the possible causes and then the primary cause of the issue. 

It’s a quality control measure that allows you to figure out what happened, understand why it occurred, and then begin to set up a process to reduce the chance of the same issue reoccurring.

RCA works on the basis that all systems and events are interconnected. One thing in a particular area triggers something else in another. The ability to trace back these interconnected triggers allows the person to see where the issue began and how it became the system that is now the main problem. It searches for patterns, finding flaws that are hidden within the system itself. It effectively shows a root cause or several causes of problems.

RCA identifies whether a defect was caused by a testing mistake, a development mistake, or maybe a requirement or design mistake. It is crucial to figure this out, so releases done later will not have the defect as well. A design mistake allows someone to go over design documentation and make adjustments, as does if the defect was caused by a testing mistake. This is an instance of causal factor analysis.

Root Cause Analysis Tools

Having the proper root cause analysis tools help you follow the RCA process, examining the contributing factors of underlying problems in a systematic way. 

Finding the real root cause of issues with a good analysis tool means you are beyond simply trying to put out fires from the original symptoms. 

Here are five root cause analysis methods that you can use as tools to discover the underlying root cause of a problem.

1. 8D Root Cause Analysis

The Eight Disciplines of Problem Solving (8D) was designed by Ford motor company as a Team Oriented Problem Solving (TOPS) in the 1980s. It is a methodology using a root cause analysis process to find the problem, create a fix for the interim while also creating a long term answer as well so problems do not reoccur. It is used for continuous improvement of reliability and quality.

This process aims to find potential root causes, narrow it down to the actual one, then create containment processes and uses a corrective measure to prevent repeating issues. It pushes systematic change so it solves the immediate problem along with others that may come from systematic failure. It is consistent, simple for the team to learn, and is a thorough process when applied.

The focus on team vs individual is beneficial as well. Its methodology improves quality and reliability and works on potential problems of the future before they bog a product down. It should be used to assess:

  • Safety and regulatory problems that are found.
  • Customer complaints that come in.
  • When warranty issues show a higher than expected failure rate.
  • Unacceptable levels of internal waste reject, and low performance or complete test failures.

2. Fishbone Tool for Root Cause Analysis

As odd as the name might sound, it describes the look of the analysis on paper. At its simplest, it’s just a cause and effect diagram. It’s also called an Ishikawa Diagram.

This tool helps when brainstorming as part of the analysis process in trying to identify items that may have caused a problem. It is a root cause tree in reverse. A tree works to narrow down the causes and a fishbone widens the list. The fishbone diagram is used to study cause and effect. The problem is laid out at “the head of the fish” and then the potential causes are written on the smaller bones of varying categories.

It allows ideas about potential causes to be considered that might otherwise be missed. Once a problem statement is decided upon and clearly stated by the team, then categories such as supply, equipment, staff, etc. are created. 

Then, you begin brainstorming about why something has happened. The fishbone diagram keeps the focus on the cause rather than symptoms. The diagram’s value is that it allows team members to dig deep and understand a problem so it can be adequately addressed in the present and future.

3. The 5 Whys Root Cause Analysis Technique

This tool is another solid way to find the root cause of the problem and halt repeat issues. This system was created by Sakichi Toyoda and is part of the Lean philosophy. The point is to ask “why?” five times when approaching a problem. This is to help a solution to become clear. It is to help find and eliminate the root cause of an issue to avoid repeat failures.

This process is done by forming a cross-functional team for unique points of view. Define the problem clearly so there is no doubt in what is being investigated. Have someone lead the team and keep them focused. Begin to ask “why?” and analyze the answers until you find the root problem.

Be open to the fact that perhaps there may be more than one root cause. Take corrective action once the root cause(s) is discovered. Test that it is working and if not, begin the process again.

4. 5m, 6m and E Root Cause Analysis

These tools for root cause analysis are similar. Both 5M, 6M & E have similar categories to analyze. Manpower (People), Machine, Measurement, Materials, Methods, and Environment (Mother Nature). These elements hold the answers when there is a problem or variation in the process.

There are questions to be asked, answered, and assessed, so narrow down the scope of where the root cause may lie. It can apply to software testing since issues can come from more than just the internal program itself. Is it a user problem? Programming? Analytics? Human error? Methods or a glitch that has somehow become part of the software from an outside source?

These 5-6 points are structured to name and link the relationships between events, users, and issues that caused the failure or incident to occur.

As with other RCA protocols, this one is used to figure out and eliminate the issue that caused the specific problem. It helps reduce manpower and economic waste by figuring out the root cause and thus alleviating the symptoms that signaled the issue. It will help stop repeat failures from happening.

5. Root Cause Analysis Software

There are various RCA software programs available to analyze and resolve issues. These software programs collect data and use it to help teams run various analysis that contributes to good quality management, including:

  • Ishikawa (Fishbone diagram)
  • The 5 whys
  • Gap analysis
  • Change analysis
  • Accident analysis
  • Failure mode and effects analysis

The benefits of RCA software is that it can make cause analysis much easier to do by recording any and all incidents and cause analysis data in one web-based location so it can be shared in an accessible way.

Examples of root cause analysis software include both incident management software and many QA automation tools that have RCA modules. 

Once the software has helped identify the root cause, there is an ability to begin corrective measures to stop the root problem and mitigate risk. Employees can be assigned to work on certain tasks to make sure all is repaired and redone. The software can help reduce the number of similar incidents from taking place as well as reduce costs and rates of incidents by fixing the root cause.

Final Thoughts

Using any of these root cause analysis tools can offer better testing and solid QA support when a team comes up against symptoms of a problem and needs to determine root causes in order to fix it.

The tools are all simple to understand and logical in how they approach the various problematic situations. 

Knowing how to use one or all of these tools for root cause analysis is important when it comes to building a team that can not only create but repair and mitigates. Using these tools along with peer support as part of the root cause analysis process opens the door to clear answers, process improvement, and overall product quality improvement.

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