Strategic tool: Root Cause Analysis

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a method that’s easy to get but often is forgotten. A proper RCA will give you solutions that make you wonder why no-one came up with them before. I’ll explain what a RCA is, how to execute one and an example of an (in my opinion) wrong (or not) executed RCA.

An RCA tries to solve problems by attempting to identify and correct the root causes of events instead of addressing their symptoms. Even though there are several different approaches for root cause analysis, it is possible to define a general process for performing RCA.

For a full method, I’ll refer to wikipedia, my personal favorite is the 5W-method. The principle is extremely simple. When you’re doing something (anything), ask yourself WHY this is a problem. Now ask yourself why that problem is a problem and so on. After 5 WHY’s, you’ve probably reached an underlying problem that has te be solved.

The example I’ll give should make this method more clear. The example is an article I read on Co.Exist called “Childproofing the spray bottle”. What struck me was how the designers completely ignored the problem and how the blog congratulated them on that. The problem the designers worked on was this one:

A 2010 study published in the journal Pediatrics showed that spray bottles were the most common source of exposure to injury in an estimated 267,269 children 5 years of age or younger treated in U.S. emergency departments for household cleaning product-related injuries between 1990 and 2006. These spray bottles are the largest dispensing system type by volume in North America, and they’re commonly used for household cleaning and garden products.

This is a pretty serious issue. We’re having dangerous chemicals in our house and aren’t always aware of it!

This is (in short) how the problem was fixed:

Researchers at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus Ohio have created a prototype for child-resistant spray bottles

For me this is a typical case of not getting it. The problem is not the children, the problem is not parents who haven’t stored their cleaning products save enough, the problem is the cleaning product. There are more than enough non-toxic, non-hazardous versions of cleaning products to use as an alternative.

Childproofing a bottle is not the same as tackling the problem, find the root-problem and fix that.


About leyssensjan

Jan Leyssens is a designer and entrepreneur who strongly believes you can’t turn sustainability into a positive story if your main focus is on negative impact. When designing, he is always looking for the overlap between activism and entrepreneurship, technology and community. His main expertise lies in strategic business model development, Circular Economy, the makermovement, and social innovation. With a background in Industrial Design, Jan quickly shifted his focus towards business design and using the design process in strategic management. Jan is the father of two kids and founder & CEO of Regenerative Design, co-founder of Full Circle, ImpactBoost, and the Circular Design map, podcaster, storyteller, and changemaker.

One comment

  1. Pingback: It ain’t what you do (it’s the way that you do it) | Keep the game, change the rules

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