RCA Software: What You Should Know

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

Understanding RCA Software

RCA (Root Cause Analysis) Software plays an important role in helping to chart the results of our RCA. However, it comes with a word of warning as there are significant misconceptions about the use of software for RCA.  For example, the vast majority of RCA software sold by RCA vendors with proprietary methodologies simply prompt users to enter data and other information, and it links the information together and produces charts to display the results.  The user must know and understand how to apply RCA fundamentals, as the software is not going to identify the underlying causes of issues or incidents for us. Only in specific use cases where there are advanced algorithms and data analytics, does software generate results that offer insights into the root causes, allowing businesses to implement effective solutions and prevent future occurrences.

In this blog post, we will explore into the importance of RCA software, how it works, what it cannot do, and the software that we at BlueDragon use in our RCAs.

Key Features of RCA Software

For organizations looking to enhance their problem-solving capabilities, Root Cause Analysis (RCA) software plays an important role in helping us to organize data and information, and chart the results of our root cause analysis. RCA software provides a framework or template that allows for a systematic approach to the problem-solving effort, and generates a consistent product for management consumption.

It is up to us humans to apply the correct data analysis tools and causal analysis techniques to identify the underlying causes of issues and take corrective action to prevent their recurrence.

Here are some of the key features we look for in RCA software:

  • Intuitive interface for easy navigation
  • Guidelines for stepping through the RCA process
  • Collaboration tools for team involvement
  • Data analysis features for identifying trends
  • Action tracking and monitoring capabilities
  • Customizable graphics to communicate the results
Software can identify the root causes of equipment failures:

There are specific cases where software algorithms can help identify the root cause of a failure, particularly when coupled with sophisticated equipment such as mass spectrometers, vibration analyzers, or other condition monitoring devices. These algorithms often rely on advanced data analysis techniques, including machine learning and artificial intelligence. Some examples include:

  1. Predictive maintenance software:
    • Algorithms analyze data from sensors, such as vibration, temperature, or pressure, to detect anomalies and predict potential equipment failures.
    • By identifying patterns and deviations from normal operating conditions, these algorithms can help pinpoint the root cause of a failure before it occurs.
  2. Manufacturing defect analysis:
    • Machine vision systems and algorithms can detect and classify defects in manufactured products.
    • By analyzing the characteristics of the defects and correlating them with process data, these algorithms can help identify the root cause of the defects, such as equipment malfunctions, material issues, or process variations.
  3. Mass spectrometry data analysis:
    • Algorithms can analyze mass spectrometry data to identify the presence of specific compounds or contaminants that may be causing a failure or quality issue.
    • By comparing the mass spectra with known reference data and applying statistical analysis techniques, these algorithms can help pinpoint the root cause of the problem.
  4. Fault tree analysis software:
    • Fault tree analysis is a deductive reasoning method used to identify the root cause of a failure by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable parts.
    • Software algorithms can automate the creation and analysis of fault trees, helping to identify the most likely root causes based on the available data and user inputs.
  5. IT Network root cause analysis:
    • In complex IT networks, algorithms can analyze network traffic data, logs, and performance metrics to identify the root cause of network outages or performance issues.
    • These algorithms use techniques such as anomaly detection, event correlation, and graph analysis to pinpoint the source of the problem and suggest remedial actions.

While these software algorithms can greatly assist in identifying root causes, it is essential to note that they are not a complete substitute for human expertise and critical thinking. Experienced analysts and subject matter experts are still needed to validate the findings, consider context-specific factors, and develop appropriate corrective actions.

Software cannot identify the root causes of human-centered failures:

And here is the major misconception with respect to RCA software.  Note that the examples in the previous section are for identifying the root causes of equipment failures.  When it comes to conducting RCAs on human performance issues, there is no equipment and associated software that can identify the root causes for us.  And that is because: HUMANS ARE AN INFINITE VARIABLE!  When solving human-centered problems, just think of a very complex math equation where there is a variable adding infinite variability to the equation.  This creates the possibility for INFINITE OUTCOMES.

Now that we understand that to conduct the vast majority of RCAs requires an understanding of RCA fundamentals and a firm grasp of the various tools and techniques for analyzing data and conducting cause and effect analysis.  Because there is no RCA software that identify the root causes for us.

With that understanding, now we can discuss the various tools and techniques that are used in conducting RCAs, and the types of software that are available to us.

RCA Tools and Available RCA Software Applications

An effective RCA process involves the use of various tools and techniques to facilitate the investigation and analysis of problems. These tools are tailored to different types of issues and many tools have software applications that can process information for us.  Here are a variety of tools and techniques used in the RCA process, and the kinds of software that is available to manage information.

RCA Software for Analyzing Data

For any RCA process to be effective, it is crucial to analyze data systematically and identify patterns that may point to underlying issues. Software applications can be used in the data analysis phase by helping teams aggregate data from various sources, perform trending and analysis, and pinpoint correlations that may not be easily identifiable through manual methods. Here are some of the more common RCA tools and techniques and the available software that makes it easier for us to analyze the information.

Brainstorming and collaboration tools:

  • Mind mapping software (e.g., XMind, MindMeister)
  • Virtual whiteboard tools (e.g., Lucid, Miro, Mural)
  • Collaboration platforms (e.g., Microsoft Teams, Slack)

Analysis of quantifiable information:

  • Spreadsheets (e.g., Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets)
  • Statistical analysis software (e.g., Minitab, JMP)
  • Control chart software (e.g., SPC XL, QI Macros)
  • Data visualization tools (e.g., Tableau, PowerBI, Pareto Charts)

RCA Software for Cause & Effect Analysis

Cause and effect analysis is the cornerstone of the RCA effort, as it enables investigators to systematically identify the underlying factors that contributed to a failure or incident. By exploring the causal relationships between events, conditions, and actions, this process helps to uncover the root causes and correcting them can prevent future occurrences.

Various tools and techniques have been developed to conduct cause and effect analysis.  Most tools are are based on the basic technique of asking WHY questions to get as deep as possible with respect to underlying causes. This basic technique is found in every cause and effect analysis tool.

General Cause and Effect Tools and Techniques

  • In general, any tool or technique that uses “cause and effect,” is performing causal analysis.
  • The 5-Whys is a good example of a basic cause and effect analysis, but it is often misused by itself as a RCA tool. For example, using 3 of the 5-Why sequences (we call them Why staircases) is not nearly rigorous enough and has no credibility as a RCA.
  • Consider the Why staircases as a basic building block. Experience shows that it takes more than 20 or 30 of the Why staircases cause and effect sequences integrated into an overall analysis to improve our likelihood of identify the root causes.
  • The Ishikawa (fishbone) diagram applies the concept of “bones” to attack a problem from multiple perspectives. However, it is not useful for complex issues and therefore should not be used for RCAs.
  • A Cause Tree is a term used to describe for a set of Why staircases side by side. A rigorous cause tree can result in a good RCA (i.e. using more than 20 Why staircases).

Proprietary RCA Software to Chart RCA Results:

  • Sologic Root Cause Analysis Software
  • Causelink (ThinkReliability)
  • PROACT RCA Software (Reliability Center, Inc.)
  • Enablon Root Cause Analysis Software (Wolters Kluwer)
  • TapRooT Root Cause Analysis Software
  • NOTE: BlueDragon does not use proprietary software to chart results: we use Lucid and Excel.

CAUTION: As mentioned previously, when it comes to conducting RCAs on human performance issues, there is no software that can identify the root causes for us.  And that is because HUMANS ARE AN INFINITE VARIABLE!  When solving human-centered problems, we must conduct cause and effect analysis with representatives in affected organizations, to fully understand the dynamics of the situation, and then chart the results on our visualization charts. These proprietary software platforms cannot identify the root causes; we must use RCA fundamentals to get to the root causes. To chart results, you may use any of the available visualization tools described below, such as Excel or Lucid.

RCA Software for Project Management and Document Controls

Project management and document controls are crucial elements of a successful root cause analysis effort. They ensure that the investigation is conducted in a structured, organized, and efficient manner, with all relevant information captured and accessible to the team. Effective project management helps to define clear goals, allocate resources, and monitor progress, while robust document controls maintain the integrity, security, and traceability of evidence, data, and findings.

By implementing these disciplines, organizations can improve the quality and timeliness of their root cause analyses, facilitate collaboration among team members, and ultimately drive more effective corrective actions to prevent recurrence of failures. Here are some of the common techniques and software used in project management and document controls.

Project management and action tracking:

  • Microsoft Projects
  • Jira (Atlassian)
  • Trello
  • Asana
  • Monday.com

Document management and knowledge sharing:

  • Google Drive
  • Microsoft SharePoint
  • Dropbox
  • Confluence (Atlassian)

RCA Software for Generating Reports and Visualizations

Software not only helps in crunching numbers and analyzing data but also supports the generation of comprehensive reports and visualizations. Visual representations provide stakeholders with a clear understanding of the problem at hand.

This capacity gives RCA software a competitive edge as it streamlines the navigation and interpretation of complex data sets, making it easier for stakeholders to comprehend overarching themes and problem areas. Through intuitive dashboard interfaces, users can quickly grasp the significance of key data points and monitor progress towards resolving underlying issues.

Process mapping and flowcharting:

  • Lucidchart
  • Excel (Microsoft)
  • Visio (Microsoft)
  • Draw.io
  • SmartDraw
  • Creately

Reporting and presentation tools:

  • Adobe PDF
  • Microsoft PowerPoint and Word
  • Apple Pages
  • Google Slides
  • Prezi
  • Adobe Acrobat (for PDF creation and editing)

These categories cover the main types of software used in root cause analysis, from data analysis and visualization to process mapping, collaboration, project management, and reporting. The specific tools mentioned are just examples, and organizations may choose different software based on their needs, preferences, and existing IT infrastructure.

RCA Software Training and Stakeholder Involvement

Involvement of key stakeholders and adequate training are crucial for the successful implementation of the RCA process and any RCA software that will be used. Stakeholders, including managers, team leaders, and frontline staff, should be engaged throughout the process to ensure buy-in and support.

It is important to provide training sessions tailored to the specific roles and responsibilities of different personnel. This will ensure they are equipped with the necessary skills to effectively utilize the RCA software and contribute to the identification and resolution of root causes.

RCS Software Used By BlueDragon IPS

Software Used for Data Analysis 
  • Brainstorming >> Lucid BlueDragon Template
  • Timelines >> Lucid BlueDragon Template, Excel, Google Sheets
  • Pareto Charts >> Excel, Google Sheets
  • Histograms, Tables >> Excel, Google Sheets
  • Control Charts >> Excel, Google Sheets
  • Statistical Analysis >> Excel, Google Sheets
  • Process Mapping >> Lucid BlueDragon Template, Excel, Google Sheets
  • Fault Tree Analysis >> Lucid BlueDragon Template, Excel, Google Sheets
  • Earned Value Management System (EVMS) >> Primavera 6
  • Organization Charts >> Lucid BlueDragon Template, Excel, Google Sheets
Software Used for Cause and Effect Analysis
  • The BlueDragon IPS system for RCAs >> Lucid BlueDragon Template, Excel
  • Events & Causal Factors Charts >> Lucid BlueDragon Template, Excel, Google Sheets
  • Cause and Effect Analysis results >> Lucid BlueDragon Template, Excel, Google Sheets
  • Fishbones >> nothing (we do not use Fishbones)
  • 5-Whys >> nothing; this is a simple technique and the building block of cause & effect analysis
Software Used for Project Management and Document Control 
  • Project Management >> Microsoft Projects, Trello
  • Document Control >> Word, Adobe PDF, Google Drive, Microsoft SharePoint, Dropbox
Software Used for Visualization (Charting the RCA Results) 
  • RCA Charts >> Lucid, Excel
  • RCA Final Reports >> Word, Adobe PDF
Software Used for Reports and Presentations
  • RCA Final Reports >> Word, Adobe PDF
  • RCA Presentations >> Lucid, Power Point

Summary

RCA software can be divided into two groups.  The first is a set of software with specific algorithms that can help identify the root cause of equipment failures, particularly when coupled with sophisticated equipment such as mass spectrometers, vibration analyzers, or other condition monitoring devices.

The second group, and the one most of us are familiar with, consists of a broad spectrum of software that helps us to conduct every aspect of the RCA, including data analysis, process mapping, project management, document control, and software that charts our results (visualization).  Note that for human errors and other human-related events, there is no RCA software that will calculate the root causes.  Because HUMANS ARE THE INFINITE VARIABLE!

For additional information on the BlueDragon Integrated Problem-solving System (IPS) and our BD2 Root Cause Analysis Practitioner course, please click on this LINK.

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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.

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