Does Your Root Cause Analysis Take Too Long?

3 minute read

There is a great anecdote about a college art professor that decided to conduct an experiment. She divided her art students into two groups: she tasked the first group, made up of her most talented students, with producing the best possible clay pot that they could design, one per week. The second group (the average Joes), she instructed to produce as many clay pots as they could in a week but did not say anything about the quality of the pots. At first, the group of talented students were producing beautiful pottery, while the second group struggled with the variables that go into making great looking pottery. But within a few weeks, the tide started to shift, and by the end of the semester there was a clear winner. You’ve guessed by now that the second group ended up producing the most beautiful pots. They failed early and often, but through modeling, innovation and repetition they figured out the best techniques, colors, kiln temperatures, etc.

That anecdote describes very well how, as a root cause practitioner, I struggled with cumbersome and time consuming tools and techniques for completing investigations. Most root causes would take approximately 6 to 12 weeks with a team of 4 to 12 subject matter experts. But after three decades of practice, I’ve learned how to lean out the process so that my average duration to complete a complex root cause analysis is right at 5 days. In three cases they have gone as long as 10 days.

You may be surprised how many self-imposed restrictions there are in most root cause analysis methodologies. For example, the way we conducted interviews was one of the most cumbersome and time-wasting processes of them all. Now we conduct facilitated causal analysis sessions with subject matter experts (SMEs) in small groups, and I don’t take any notes; their input goes right into the final product. Another example is how we used to conduct many separate data analysis efforts, and then tried to make sense of it all. Interpreting the results of our various analyses and coming up with logical conclusions often took weeks of arm wrestling and negotiating between the members on the team. Now, we simultaneously conduct Analysis of Defenses, Task Analysis, Change Analysis and Comparative Timeline Analysis, all on the same chart. One final example: instead of taking 4 to 12 SMEs away from their mission-critical tasks to launch a root cause team, we only need a facilitator and an administrative assistant on the team. One or two SMEs are brought in for just a few hours to help gather information at the start, and then we can cycle as many as we need to complete the analysis (in some cases more than 100 have participated), but for no more than 2 hours each.

It turns out that my clients at the Department of Energy, the nuclear weapons complex and other Engineering firms really appreciated how efficient, effective and accurate the methodology was, and they started asking me to teach their staff. Who’d have thought that engineers and scientists would appreciate those qualities! That’s how in 2015, the BlueDragon Critical Thinking and Complex Problem Solving Method was born.

What makes the BlueDragon method so incredibly efficient and effective is called “Hyper-integrated Causal Analysis” (HCA). HCA has won over every client that has attended one of our workshops. The reason is simple: everyone would rather spend more time and money on mission-critical tasks, then on fighting a stream of never-ending (sometimes recurring) problems or events and closing out corrective action backlogs.

If you would like to learn more about BlueDragon and HCA, visit us at:

Kind regards,

Rob De La Espriella

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