Industrial professionals use RCA, politicians apply CCACA

Jan. 28, 2014

Make your plant run like a learning machine, not a Washington newscast.

When I find myself watching the endless antics in the District of Columbia, I am prouder than ever of the reliability and maintenance people I know and work with. The politicians seem to spend most of their time doing what we train ourselves to avoid – the blame game. Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (CMRP) discipline ourselves to use root cause analysis (RCA) to identify the logical roots of failure. The results of RCA enable us to understand a failure, or potential failure, and make the adjustments necessary to prevent future failures.

By focusing on causal chains, technical problem solvers build effective teams out of workplace groups. The products of RCA are solutions to technical problems. Byproducts of the RCA approach are improved teamwork, group acceptance of solutions, and sharply reduced likelihood of repeated failures. Culture, safety and productivity are all enriched by the RCA approach to industrial life.

The Washington partisan bloviators and commercial news media take a different approach. When faced with almost any topic of interest, they are apt to use the Crisis Creation and Culpability Assignment (CCACA) methodology. CCACA, though not a new concept, has been popularized in recent years due to an excess of bureaucrats and talking heads, coupled with a rising tide of real problems that nobody inside government wants to address. Instead, finger pointing, filibustering and obstructionism crowd out the real headlines and divert viewers from the issues we need to solve.

One utilitarian, easily understandable form of RCA is the “5 Whys” analysis. After a failure is described clearly, the question “Why did that happen?” is asked repeatedly until a root cause is identified. Conversely, the question driving CCACA analysis is “Who is to blame?” This question, if asked repeatedly, can make for lively discussion. In fact it is often tempting to apply it in industrial settings. The problem with CCACA is that the answer to the “who” question is a name, not a solution. People don’t get solved. They may need to be educated, but education cannot start until there is a clear understanding of what went wrong and what the team must do to make it right. These are the answers to the “what,” not the “who” questions.

The next time there is a temptation to spread CCACA around the workplace, let’s all remember that, as manufacturing professionals, we need to deal in the “what” questions before anybody starts asking “who.” Teams that solve the root causes of problems and share those solutions as educational tools create learning, continuously improving organizations. They will always outperform and outlast groups that spend their time and energy finger pointing and name calling.

Does it make you wonder if this lesson might have a governmental application or two?

Read Stanton McGroarty's monthly column Strategic Maintenance.

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