Robert J. Latino, CEO, RCI
Abstract: We have all been inundated with the flavor of the month “programs” that come down the corporate pike. We see the acronym coming from a mile away. We see the lip service support given to the effort and then the gradual demise of expectations into the sunset. We are often conditioned in this fashion creating the above described paradigm. But could this conditioning negate our receptivity to common sense?
As a Root Cause Analysis (RCA) consultant, trainer and practitioner in industry, I have visited hundreds of facilities and trained thousands of engineers, managers, mechanics and operators. I wish that I had $1 for every time I have heard about how “…our facility is very complex”, or “…we are different from everybody else”. If I had that $1 for each occurrence, I would not have to work very long!
What many people do not realize is that there is one common denominator in RCA, no matter where we work – WE ARE HUMAN BEINGS! This is no revelation. Yet we constantly strive to convince ourselves that our problems are the result of things beyond our control. To me, this is rationalizing why we have been unable to resolve an issue. Keep in mind, that humans created the equipment, processes and systems in which we work.
The proper application of RCA must first involve the understanding and acceptance that the nature of the undesirable event is irrelevant. True RCA involves understanding how the human mind resolves any undesirable situation. The industry in which it is applied is irrelevant. I personally frequently work in steel mills, paper mills, chemical plants, oil refineries, healthcare facilities, service companies and the like. There are no direct commonalities across these industries, except that human beings run them. I could not possibly have expertise in all of them.
In order to be successful with the concept of RCA, we must first overcome our objections to our perceptions of RCA. I have compiled a list, based on my experience, of the “Top Ten (10) Reasons that People Believe RCA Will Not Work in Their Organization”. They are as follows:
1. RCA takes too much time
2. RCA is too expensive
3. RCA is the “program-of-the-month”
4. We already have RCM
5. I will work myself out of a job
6. RCA is a witch hunting tool
7. RCA is the engineer’s job
8. RCA is only useful for major events
9. RCA is a reactive tool
10. RCA is the maintenance department’s problem
Do these phrases (paradigms) sound familiar? Whether these conditions actually exist or not, if people believe they do, then they will make decisions as if they do exist. Most of the time, our obstacles to RCA success, is our own view of the world. Let’s take each of these restraining paradigms and see whether they are fact or fiction.
1. RCA Takes Too Much Time – I enjoy hearing this objection because my next question always is “If this takes too much time, what are you so busy working on?” The fact of the matter is that we are so busy being firefighters (reactors) that we cannot find the time to eliminate the need for the firefighting.
This can become a dangerous maintenance strategy called Crisis Management. The truth of this situation is that we can’t afford NOT to do RCA. Think of all the time that would be freed up if our people were not constantly firefighting.
2. RCA Is Too Expensive – I find this one amusing as well, because we always find the money to fix something over and over again, but we cannot seem to find it for proactive activities. It’s funny that our budgets rarely include costs for a catastrophic event, yet when they happen, we always find the cash. Consider what costs are associated with routine chronic events such as bearing failures; manpower dollars, material dollars and lost production at a minimum. Add these costs up for event over the course of a year and see if RCA is too expensive. Not likely!
3. RCA Is The Program-Of-The-Month – Of course it will be viewed as this. It is another acronym. Once an effort has a new acronym attached to it that is the beginning of the demise. We often see that the average “program-of-the-month” has a shelf life of about six (6) months. Most will sit back and see if the effort lasts past that long. If so, then they may get on board. The fact is that RCA is common sense and should be viewed as the way we do business. Safety survived on this concept!
4. We Already Have Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) – I am always surprised when companies will approach us about bidding on a project where the bidders will be RCA and RCM firms. This is a clear indication that the company putting the bid out does not understand either. RCM is typically a means to identify and prioritize critical equipment and then develop a custom preventive/predictive maintenance program. This sharpens our response to impending failure. RCA on the other hand, strives to eliminate the risk of recurrence of the event so that there is nothing to predict in the future. These are diametrically different concepts that are complementary not contradictory. We are cautious whenever anyone puts out a “bid” for such work because it treats RCA as a commodity. If people believe that RCA is a commodity, then the methodology used by the awarded firm is of no consequence and low cost is the driver, not value. We will typically remove ourselves from bidding situations where we are viewed as a commodity and the value of our method is not a criterion.
5. I Will Work Myself Out Of A Job – This is a common concern among people whose sole purpose is to repair equipment and processes on a daily basis. Imagine if you are a maintenance person and these RCA people show up and say their goal is to eliminate failures. Where does that leave me? What few realize is that the typical maintenance function is a primarily reactive task. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could better use the creativity and experience of these individuals for proactive means? Think of all the proactive functions that we currently do not have proper staffing for; preventive maintenance technicians, predictive maintenance technicians, RCA analysts, inspectors, etc. When we eliminate the need for the repair work, we should free up the time of some very skilled people to do the proactive jobs, which increase the reliability of our operations. We should not consider RCA as forcing us out of a job, but rather providing us a more challenging one.
6. RCA Is A Witch Hunting Tool – Like any tool, you can use RCA for good or for evil. I would not be telling the truth if I said that no one has ever used RCA as a witch hunting tool. I would be telling the truth if I told you that those who did use it for that purpose only used it once, then no one ever helped them again with RCA. This will render the effort as useless. The fact of the matter is that we cannot technically be accurate in true RCA if we witch hunt. This is because if we do not understand why people make decision errors that result in failure, then we cannot be assured the event will not recur. It is an absolute necessity to understand the human decision making process in true RCA. Witch hunting will prevent this from occurring.
7. RCA Is The Engineer’s Job – For decades analytical tasks such as RCA have been viewed as the responsibility of the more technical professions such as engineers, scientists, academics, etc. While such expertise is helpful on an RCA team, it and of itself, does not guarantee results. It has been my experience that any event in any organization can be solved with the talent employed by the company. However, I have found that RCA teams are much more successful with the participation of the hourly workforce, the people closest to work. No one knows the specifics of the operations like those on the floor who are in a position to sense their surroundings daily. Personally, any attempt to do RCA without the hourly participation is a missed opportunity for the organization and a potential risk to the successful conclusion of the analysis.
8. RCA Is Only Useful For Major Events – Many believe that only time RCA should be applied is when someone is injured, there is catastrophic damage, there is an environmental incident or some regulatory agency requires it. Oftentimes RCA is only applied to such situations. Do these events reflect the major sources of loss to an organization? Our experience says that such sporadic events are minor contributors to the overall losses of an organization. On the contrary, our experience shows that 20% or less of the chronic events account for 80% or more of the losses.
9. RCA Is A Reactive Tool – What is eating our lunch are the small, chronic events that are accepted as a cost of doing business. These events are so widely accepted that they are actually budgeted for on an annual basis. They are usually embedded in the infamous “R” or Routine category. They are the “hidden gold” because no one will analyze them because no one is hurt, there is minimal damage, there is no environmental incident and there is no regulatory agency on our back. Using RCA only to investigate sporadic events is a totally reactive use of the method. Using RCA to analyze these chronic events is a proactive use of the methodology because is we do not analyze them, no one will.
10. RCA Is The Maintenance Department’s Problem – Remember when the common term was Root Cause Failure Analysis (RCFA). Now we call it Root Cause Analysis (RCA). Why do you think that is? Because most people associate the term “failure” with a mechanical or maintenance loss. This is a misnomer. Our experience shows us that in the continuous process industries, on average, production losses outweigh maintenance losses 4:1. This means that a lost downtime hour can cost four times the maintenance cost to repair equipment. However, we often only consider mechanical things as failures. What about quality defect, poor yields, excessive scrap and rework, extended scheduled shut downs, excessive time to obtain safety permits and the like? Don’t these items cost a considerable amount of loss? Just like Safety is everyone’s job, so is RCA. There are no boundaries that confine the analytical thought process of the human being.
Looking over this, we can recognize that it is nothing more than common sense. Hopefully, these descriptions should help to overcome these restraining paradigms with your organization if they prevail. The only thing holding us back from being successful with RCA is ourselves. Remember, you cannot do what you cannot imagine!
Robert J. Latino is CEO for Reliability Center, Inc. Mr. Latino is a practitioner of root cause analysis in the field with his clientele as well as an educator. Mr. Latino is an author of RCI’s Root Cause Analysis Methods© training and co-author of Problem Solving Methods© training. Mr. Latino has been published in numerous trade magazines on the topic of root cause analysis as well as a frequent speaker on the topic at trade shows and conferences. His most recent publication is titled “Root Cause Analysis – Improving Performance for Bottom Line Results” He can be contacted at 804/458-0645 or firstname.lastname@example.org