Proactive Root Cause Analysis: Breaking from Traditional RCA

Author: Rob De La EspriellaBD3, CEO and Founder, BlueDragon IPS

Benefits of Traditional RCA 

While many organizations deploy Root Cause Analysis (RCA) reactively in response to critical events, a shift towards proactive root cause analysis is proving beneficial. By integrating RCA with tools like Risk Management Assessments, Reliability Centered Maintenance and Trending and Analysis programs, companies now preemptively identify and address potential issues before they escalate, thus avoiding future setbacks.

This article explores the concept of leveraging RCA for proactive problem-solving, highlighting how organizations can go beyond mere reactive responses to cultivate a culture of foresight and prevention.

Identifying the Deepest-Seated Root Causes

RCAs are traditionally conducted following an event, accident or incident, or a major program failure. The effective implementation of any RCA methodology will identify the true, deep-seated root causes of problems, incidents or accidents. RCA involves going beyond the surface-level symptoms and digging deeper into the systems and processes that may have contributed to the issue.

By developing great evidence-based, unbiased lines of inquiry questions and conducting cause & effect analysis, we can uncover the underlying causes that need to be addressed to prevent recurrence.

Developing Corrective Actions That Prevent Recurrence

With developing corrective actions, it is crucial to not just focus on fixing the immediate problem, but also on preventing it from happening again. This requires implementing changes that will have a high likelihood of preventing recurrence.

One thing to keep in mind is that whenever humans are involved, we cannot be 100% certainty that our corrective actions will prevent recurrence, because humans are an “infinite variable.” Humans can bypass any line of defenses we have in place, as it is impossible to anticipate the infinite behaviors that humans are capable of.  But by developing robust corrective actions, organizations can ensure that similar issues are mitigated in the future.

To ensure the effectiveness of the corrective actions, it is important to involve cross-functional teams and stakeholders who can provide diverse perspectives and insights. This collaborative approach helps in generating comprehensive solutions and ensures that all aspects of the problem are thoroughly examined.

In addition, corrective actions should be developed using powerful strategies that have a higher likelihood of preventing recurrence. These include:

  • Lean Mistake Proofing
  • The Hierarchy of Hazard Controls
  • Extent of the (Root) Cause Reviews
  • Get Rid of Stupid Stuff (GROSS)

By following these guidelines, organizations can leverage RCA as a proactive tool to prevent future incidents and improve overall efficiency.

Proactivity Through RCA: A New Paradigm


Despite Root Cause Analysis (RCA) traditionally being utilized as a reactive process to address issues post-occurrence, there is a growing shift towards leveraging RCA proactively. With a proactive mindset, organizations can harness the power of RCA to anticipate and prevent issues before they arise. By conducting thorough analyses and implementing preventive measures based on identified root causes, businesses can create a more resilient operational environment.


Tips for Proactive Root Cause Analysis 


Combining RCAs With Self-Assessment and Oversight Programs to Prevent Problems Before They Occur

Any organization can benefit from using RCA proactively to identify and mitigate potential problems before they escalate. By incorporating proactive RCA practices into their operational strategies, businesses can cultivate a culture of continuous improvement and excellence, positioning themselves for long-term success.

Specific ways that proactive RCAs can be combined with existing programs include:

  • Proactive Program Reviews: Proactive RCAs can be used to evaluate poor performing programs by analyzing the performance insights against standards and expectations and conducting Cause & Effect Analysis on any deviations.
  • Risk-based Department Level Self-Assessments: Proactive RCAs can be used strategically to focus on aspects of a department that are not performing well.
  • Enterprise Risk Assessments: Proactive RCAs can be used to evaluate performance at the enterprise level in key areas of vulnerabilities. One of the most impactful examples is the proactive analysis of the effectiveness of the enterprise’s cybersecurity defenses.
  • Oversight Program Audits and Assessments: Proactive RCAs can be used to conduct oversight activities that go beyond pointing out the obvious deviations or deficiencies, which are merely symptoms of deeper-seated causes.
  • Negative Trends of Minor Incidents: We can launch or commission a proactive RCA based on performance insights that come from analyzing data and available information.  For example, if a negative trend of industrial safety issues is identified from the quarterly trending and analysis of a Corrective Action Program database, we can escalate the trend of minor events to an RCA, to proactively identify the deepest-seated causes before a more significant industrial event takes place.
  • Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM): By combining RCA with proactive maintenance approaches such as RCM, companies can identify potential issues before they escalate, and implement preventative measures. This integration ensures that corrective actions from RCA are not just reactive but also part of a comprehensive maintenance plan that proactively manages risks and optimizes asset performance.

Extent of Cause Reviews: Analyzing to What Extent Identified Root Causes Can Cause Future Problems

Another way to use the RCA process proactively is to conduct an Extent of the (Root) Cause reviews.  After completing a Root Cause Analysis and identifying the root causes of any problem, incident, accident or program failure, we can determine where else these root causes (and significant contributing factors) have the potential to adversely affect other areas.

The primary areas we need to focus on include:

  • HUMAN PERFORMANCE: Is this root cause limited to the at-risk behaviors and error likely situations identified in this specific occurrence/event, or is the root cause causing other at-risk behaviors and error likely situations?
  • EQUIPMENT OPERABILITY: Is this root cause limited to the component or equipment involved in this specific occurrence/event, or does it apply to other systems, components or equipment?
  • PROGRAMS AND PROCEDURES: Is this root cause limited to the programs, processes and procedures involved in this specific occurrence/event, or does it affect other programs, processes and procedures, causing other latent organizational & programmatic weaknesses?

By exploring the impact of RCA findings across other systems that may also be affected, we can proactively identify and address these threats, implementing preventive measures to mitigate these risks before the same root causes can have an adverse effect in other areas.


While RCA is traditionally used reactively in response to critical events, the article highlights the benefits of integrating RCA with tools such as Risk Management Assessments, Reliability Centered Maintenance, and Trending and Analysis programs. By adopting a proactive mindset and conducting thorough analyses, organizations can anticipate and prevent issues, creating a more resilient operational environment.

This article also provides tips for the proactive use of RCA, including combining RCA with self-assessment and oversight programs, conducting Extent of Cause Reviews to analyze the potential impact of identified root causes on future problems, and integrating RCA with proactive maintenance approaches like Reliability Centered Maintenance.

The emphasis is on cultivating a culture of foresight and prevention through proactive RCA practices, allowing businesses to better position themselves for long-term success and continuous improvement.

For additional insights or questions about the use of proactive RCAs or the BlueDragon Integrated Problem-solving System, contact us by following this link.


About the Author:

Rob De La EspriellaBD3, CEO and Founder, BlueDragon IPS

Deming Prize winning team member and pioneering Nuclear Quality Assurance expert Rob De La Espriella draws from four decades of experience in the commercial nuclear power sector and the nuclear weapons complex to offer deep insights into Root Cause Analysis and Total Quality Management. Rob is a leading expert in solving complex human-centric problems in our modern work environments, and has re-defined how organizations solve complex problems with the BlueDragon Integrated Problem-solving System (IPS), the first universal problem-solving system that can be applied to all regulated industries.  Rob is a former nuclear submarine officer, a decorated Resident Inspector with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and a senior manager at commercial nuclear power plants. He was also on the Florida Power & Light team that won the Deming Prize from Japan.  Since 2007, he has been a Senior Policy Advisor for the Department of Energy and their contractors, helping solve some of their most complex issues.  Rob is a adjunct professor at Endicott College in Beverly, MA, and in 2023, he was accepted into the Forbes Business Council and is a Forbes contributor.

© 2024 DLE Technical Services, LLC. All rights reserved.

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