A root cause analysis (RCA) is used to pinpoint the underlying cause of a problem. There are many effective methods for conducting a RCA, but in this checklist, we'll be utilizing the fishbone diagram (AKA the Ishikawa diagram) to help dig deep and identify root causes.

We created this Process Street checklist to make it easy for you to conduct a root cause analysis. It uses stop tasks, conditional logic, and Approvals features so you can record everything seamlessly, collaborate with your team effortlessly, and keep track of everything at a central location.

If you're interested in reading more about root cause analysis, check out our article.

Why should you conduct root cause analysis?

Conducting a root cause analysis allows you to address issues that may be getting in the way of your company's success. Root causes are often not the obvious issues that are addressed day to day. A RCA uncovers the sources of your company's recurring problems and helps to build a more effective plan to address them for good.

Who should conduct the root cause analysis?

For best results, a RCA should always be conducted by more than one team member, preferably a small team with firsthand experience with the problem you want to address. You're far more likely to overlook details when you're working on your own. When you work with a team, it helps brainstorm solutions more effectively because you have the perspectives of more than one person. 

Once the RCA is completed, it should then be approved by the project manager.

Record basic details

Begin by recording some basic information using the form fields below.

Use the Members field below to assign your project manager to the checklist. By doing this, it will allow them to review the progress and let them easily approve the final results.

Identify the problem

In order to identify the root cause of your issue, you need start by clearly defining the problem itself.

You'll want to utilize as much data as possible; both qualitative and quantitative. 

Gather as much data as you can that proves the legitimacy of the issues you're experiencing, while also recording, in simple terms, plain English descriptors of the problem.

Don't worry about being too specific. 

Use the form fields below to record details about the problem.


Brainstorm possible causal factors

Now that you've identified the problem you'd like to focus on, you'll need to brainstorm potential causes of the problem.

This is most effective when done with a partner or team, because you'll be able to provide each other with additional perspectives that otherwise you may find a difficult time arriving at on your own. When deciding on who to work with, it can be particularly useful to choose team members who have first-hand experience with the problem themselves. Your team can use the data you gathered in the previous step to help come up with causal factors. 

When brainstorming, it may help to ask questions, such as:

  • What timeline of events led up to the problem?
  • Did any specific conditions allow for the problem to occur? If so, which?
  • Are there any other problems that are connected to the current problem and could possibly be contributing to it? If so, which?

Don't hold back. List as many causal factors as you possibly can. Simply begin at the problem and brainstorm potential causes by asking "why?" at every step along the way. 

Use the form fields below to record details about the causal factors.

Construct a fishbone diagram

There are many ways to identify root causes, but most if not all, begin with brainstorming potential causal factors and then asking "why?"

The majority of root causes require you to dig deep for you to find. You need to continue asking "why?" until you've reached the end of the line of thought and all possibilities have been exhausted. At the end, is where you'll finally reach your root cause. 

One proven method for identifying a root cause is to construct a fishbone diagram. You begin by recording the main problem at the center of the diagram (the fish spine), and then writing down various potential causal factors, arranging them around the central problem in branches (the fish rib bones). 

The first branches will begin as very broad ideas, and will then each branch out further into smaller, more specific categories until you eventually arrive at your root cause(s).

For example:

Identify the root cause(s)

Now that you've exhausted all of your causal factors, you should review the diagram and identify the root cause(s)

Try to find a root cause that is within you and your teams control to change. 

Note: Eliminating a causal factor might alleviate the situation temporarily, but it won't necessarily keep the problem from resurfacing again in the future. This is a sure way of telling apart a causal factor from a root cause.

Use the form fields below to record details about the root cause(s).

Identify communication challenge(s)

Not all root causes will be in your control. Review the root causes you and your team collected and decide which can actually be addressed.

Note:communication challenge is a root cause that communication can influence or fix.

Use the form fields below to record details about the communication challenge(s).

[Conditional] Order communication challenges by priority

If you've identified more than one communication challenge, you'll need to decide which to address first. Begin by ranking your communication challenges in order from highest priority to lowest.

If you're having trouble ordering them, ask questions like:

  • How much of an impact will addressing the communication challenge have? If it has a larger impact, it should be higher priority.
  • Is there a logical order that the communication challenges should be addressed? 
  • Is a particular root cause the source of more than one causal factor? 

Use the form fields below to record details about the communication challenges.

Approval: Final approval

Will be submitted for approval:
  • [Conditional] Order communication challenges by priority
    Will be submitted
  • Identify communication challenge(s)
    Will be submitted
  • Identify the root cause(s)
    Will be submitted
  • Construct a fishbone diagram
    Will be submitted
  • Brainstorm possible causal factors
    Will be submitted
  • Identify the problem
    Will be submitted
  • Record basic details
    Will be submitted


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