Root Cause Analysis

What Does Root Cause Analysis Mean?

Root cause analysis (RCA) is a problem-solving method which is used to pinpoint the exact cause of a problem or event.


The root cause is the actual cause of a specific problem or set of problems, and when that cause is removed, it prevents the final undesirable effect from occurring.

RCA is a reactive method, as opposed to preventive, since it will be employed only after a problem has occurred in order to find its cause and prevent it from happening again.

Techopedia Explains Root Cause Analysis

RCA is procedural and helps guide the analyst or problem solver to arrive, discover, and understand the real causes of problems and therefore arrive at a conclusion that may lead to the development of a practical solution that will prevent the recurrence of that problem.

RCA was first used in the 1950s shortly after the introduction of Kepner-Tregoe Analysis.
RCA is not really a single, well-defined field of study as there are many variations, tools, processes, and philosophies that stemmed from it or are related to it.

However, there are several "schools" or fields which are identified through their field of origin:

  • Failure-based RCA descended from failure analysis in engineering and maintenance.
  • Safety-based RCA from the fields of accident analysis and occupational health and safety.
  • Systems-based RCA from ideas taken from change and risk management and systems analysis.
  • Production-based RCA from quality control in manufacturing.
  • Process-based RCA is sort of a continuation of production-based RCA which is expanded to include business processes and not just manufacturing.

A very simple example for a root cause is a loose RJ-45 connector which causes a computer to periodically lose network connectivity because the contact isn’t very good. When the connector is plugged properly, the contacts on the metal pins are tight and constant, therefore removing the original problem of intermittent network connectivity.


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Margaret Rouse

Margaret Rouse is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical, business audience. Over the past twenty years her explanations have appeared on TechTarget websites and she's been cited as an authority in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine and Discovery Magazine.Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages. If you have a suggestion for a new definition or how to improve a technical explanation, please email Margaret or contact her…