A Discussion On Root Cause In Construction Impacts


ASQ Defines it as:

A root cause is defined as a factor that caused a nonconformance and should be permanently eliminated through process improvement………

Root cause analysis is defined as a collective term that describes a wide range of approaches, tools, and techniques used to uncover causes of problems………


The root cause is the core issue that sets in motion the entire cause-and-effect reaction that ultimately leads to the problem(s).

Enterprise Services Defines it as:

Root cause analysis (RCA) is a systematic process for identifying “root causes” of problems or events and an approach for responding to them. RCA is based on the basic idea that effective management requires more than merely “putting out fires” for problems that develop, but finding a way to prevent them………

RCA helps pinpoint contributing factors to a problem or event………

RCA helps organizations avoid the tendency to single out one factor to arrive at the most expedient (but generally incomplete) resolution. It also helps to avoid treating symptoms rather than true, underlying problems that contribute to a problem or event………

While RCA is used in a generic sense, there is an implication that a methodology is used in the analysis………

Most RCA experts believe that achievement of total prevention by a single intervention is not always possible and see RCA as an ongoing process that strives for continuous improvement.

BMC Blogs, Article by Laura Shiff

What is Root Cause Analysis?

Root cause analysis (RCA) is a systematic process for finding and identifying the root cause of a problem or event. Based on the basic idea that having a truly effective system means more than just putting out fires all day, RCA aims to not only figure out where the issue came about but it also strives to respond to it and then find a way to prevent it from happening again in the future.

Originally started in aeronautical engineering, this method is now applied in virtually every field imaginable, but with particular focus and benefits in software development. Finding the root cause of a software or infrastructure problem is a highly effective quality engineering technique that is already mandated across a variety of industries.

Then what are the repeated elements of ROOT CAUSE ANALYSIS?

  • Many people over many years have arrived at using different methods for determining root cause.
  • There is not necessarily only one root cause at the same level of importance for every incident
  • Root cause analysis is a combination of brainstorming to uncover all possible causes and their level of criticality and an investigative process to eliminate the possible causes that don’t prove to be involved or important.
  • There is a fairly common approached used to approach and execute a root cause analysis by all that do this.
  • Cause-and-Effect diagrams are in some format used by all involved in this type of analysis.

Therefore, the remainder of this paper explores the most common elements and approaches of ROOT CAUSE ANALYSIS. I will adopt the following diagram to discuss the approach:


The first steps should include your field team members that are close to the issue occurrence and its immediate effects as well as the person who will conduct the review and evaluation. They must work together and communicate effectively. During this step the analyst must assimilate the gathered evidence, actions and events. Once all available findings are in hand, the analyst will pull together all learned information and proceed to finalize the analysis and report. Depending on the magnitude of the incident this may happen quickly or take time for study and a deeper analysis.

This is where the analyst formulates a presentation covering a full cause-and-effect analysis and identifies the root cause and responsibility for the cause. He or she also offers opinions on how the effects can be mitigated for now and for a way to avoid a repeat of the incident.


Brainstorming (during step 1, above)

“a group creativity technique by which efforts are made to find a conclusion for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its members.

... All the ideas are noted down and those ideas are not criticized and after brainstorming session the ideas are evaluated.”

Cause-and-Effect diagramming


The contributing effect categories and the possible (potential) causes under each contributing effect all come from the previously discussed brainstorming. This diagram must be pared-down through further discovery and revisiting the notes from the previous investigation. This revisiting will allow the analyst to remove potential causes that do not prove-out.


As many potential causes as possible should be eliminated. The remaining cause or causes must be further evaluated to level of importance and criticality. The aim is to leave only the most likely cause. This is the most likely root cause that must be dealt with.

It is possible that more than one cause is left and potentially the real root cause.


Preventing Analyst/Team Mind Wondering

The analyst must maintain consistency along every analyzed branch of the Root Cause Analysis (RCA) analysis. Focus on the visible problem (symptom) must be maintained throughout the question asking process. This is not a simple mandate. Like any mandate it is very important that the analyst follow the rules. See the next graphic:


It is all too easy to find yourself breaking the primary rule, “All Questions MUST relate to the impact (Specific Problem being analyzed). When dealing with construction impacts this can often be quite difficult since there is so much overlapping ongoing work.



As new discoveries take place, they may be easily added to the diagram and may foster more questions and investigations that focus on the subject of this CO or Claim.

A subject that has been long known in the Construction Claims arena is the one item may lead to or cause another item, often referred to as the “Ripple Effect.” The use of both Fishbones and your CPM schedule, often applied in parallel, Can show this ripple effect. Even is one isolated impact does not delay the project or cause significant direct or delay damages, the combine effect or several impacts may well do so. You can create and analyze individual impacts with their own Fishbone Diagrams and then, if they are related, combine them to create an all-inclusive diagram for the entire CO or Claim.

Fishbones and your CPM schedule, often applied in parallel, can show this ripple effect. Even is one isolated impact does not delay the project or cause significant direct or delay damages, the combine effect or several impacts may well do so. You can create and analyze individual impacts with their own Fishbone Diagrams and then, if they are related, combine them to create an all-inclusive diagram for the entire CO or Claim.


Combining Fishbone Diagrams

The major purpose of a Fishbone Diagram in the past has been as the first step in the problem-solving process. You are able to initially generate a comprehensive list of possible causes and the relationship and subordinated order of these causes. We are now suggesting that the diagram be used after the investigations and analysis to document the discoveries and reference the documented proof.


Annotated Fishbone Diagram

The Cause-and-Effect (Fishbone) Diagram servers you well during each phase of the CO/Claim development and publishing process.

When carrying out root cause analysis methods and processes, keep these hints in mind:

  • Many root cause analysis tools and methods can be used by a single person in a vacuum. Nevertheless, the outcome generally is far better when a group of people work together to find the problem causes.
  • Those ultimately responsible for removing the identified root cause(s) should be prominent members of the analysis team that sets out to uncover them. A typical design of a root cause analysis in an organization might follow these steps: A small team is formed to conduct the root cause analysis.

Team members are selected from the office and field personnel that experiences the problem. The team might be supplemented by:

  • Subcontractor and/or vendor personnel
  • Consultants in this field who can bring in outside experience

Make this process a company process.

Gordon H. Aronson, P.E.

Vision Consultants, LLC

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