The Root Cause Just isn’t that Important

by Tor Idhammar
Posted 12/2/2009

Root cause analysis and root cause failure analysis are commonly used terms. I have always felt that these terms are somewhat misguided. I say so for some really simple reasons.

First, there is not really such a thing as a “root cause” to a problem. If you try to find a definition for “root cause”, you will find a mix of homegrown attempts, but all of them are general or unclear in nature. Here is an example: “A root cause is an initiating cause of a causal chain which leads to an outcome or effect of interest”. Aside from being wrong, it is quite a bunch of incomprehensive verbiage. The problem with definitions such as these is that it is never, in the real world, possible to prove a single event that solely initiates a whole chain of other events. That is because there are always other events before the so-called “root cause event”. This may seem like semantics, but for problem-solvers, it is important to keep in mind that there never is a silver-bullet answer.
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