Determining the Root Causes of Problems That Arise During a Project
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The true quantification of the success of a project is not if you had to deal with a difficult problem, but whether it is a similar problem you had last year. 

In fact, throughout the course of our projects, we encounter the same challenges or issues over and over again. But what is the reason for this. The answer to this question is a simple one, but it is not usually an easy one: you did not take the time to uncover the root cause of the problem, or you did not execute a corrective action plan so as to prevent a reoccurrence of this problem.

Any one of this ignorance on your part will cause a problem which keeps on recurring.  

The most important feature of an excellent root cause analysis is been able to truly understand it. The Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is an analytical process which helps the entire project team to discover the root cause of a problem. RCA can be employed for the investigation as well as correction of the root causes of recurring incidents, human errors, quality issues, equipment failure, major accidents, delivery delays, procurement of materials, insufficient resources and it can as well be utilized proactively to detect potential problems as the project progresses.

The main ingredient of a root cause analysis that is successful and effective is in knowing the sequence or process that works well. The effect is the event – the problem that happened. 

A cause is typically defined as a related set of conditions or situations which permits or supports the existence of an even or a condition. So, the best procedure here is to find out the reason for the occurrence of the event. In a simple way, getting rid of the cause(s) will ultimately get rid of the effect.

However, in the initial analysis you must assess the symptoms (an indication or a sign of the existence of something). For instance there aren’t sufficient human resources needed to supervise all the activities of the project work.  Project activities not been properly supervised is a symptom of the lack of sufficient human resources. But the insufficient human resources could be a symptom of an ineffective assignment of roles and responsibilities or the absence of building information modeling tool. So, there will continue to be unsupervised activities in the project. The most effective way to preventing an issue from reoccurring again is through finding the actual root cause of the problem and proposing corrective action plans to correct it. However, the main challenge here is in effectively identifying the right root cause(s) of a problem.

A factor that contributes to it is a condition that affects the effect by increasing the likeliness for occurrence, making the effect happen pretty fast and increasing the criticality of the consequence. However, this factor which contributes to the effect will not cause it to happen. For example, the use of an inadequate tool instead of Building Information Modeling (BIM) in managing the project might cause the project manager to assign project supervisors to some activities and ignore some others due to the fact that he might not be able to understand/ascertain the entire scope of the project.

The fact that the Project Manager not being able to utilize an effective Building Information Modeling (BIM) tool to organize the project, revealed the fact that he doesn’t fully understand the scope of the project, which subsequently led to some project activities not being supervised, which can lead to quality issues, which can lead to further unpleasant events. And so the chain of unpleasant event occurs.

To use an analogy here, in the story about the famous Titanic ship, the lack of binoculars in the ship did not directly bring about the sinking of the ship, however, it was a major contributor to the chain of events that ultimately caused the ship to finally sink. 

To be precise, the presence of the binoculars in the ship would have made it possible for look out to see the iceberg much sooner than he was able to do much later by the use of an enhanced vision.

Determining the Root Causes of Problems That Arise During a Project

All of these points emphasize the importance of assessing problems in a systematic, structured, logical process and it creates a proven procedure to discover, assess and confirm the essential root cause of repeating failures. 

The main objectives for carrying out a Root cause analysis of problems and challenges in a project are to assess problems or events to find out:

  • What problem occurred in the project.
  • How it occurred in the project.
  • Why it occurred
  • The necessary actions which can be developed and executed for preventing such reoccurrence. 

Some pretty basic driving force for an RCA that is effective includes:

  • Accepting the fact that there could be more than one root cause for an event or a problem.
  • Concentrating on the corrective measures of the identified cause as a more effective action than simply tackling the symptoms of the event or problem.
  • Applying a logical process with conclusions that are backed by evidence such as data and facts.

Implementing remedial countermeasures to stop a reoccurrence of these issues, but also following up to verify that their implementation is effective.

A technique that has existed for numerous years is known as the “5 Why” technique. It is a basic, solution-focused technique which allows users to rapidly get to the root source of the problem. It became pretty popular globally back in the 1970s by the production method of Toyota, which was known as the TPS or the Toyota Production System.

The procedure typically, involves analyzing a problem and then finding the “Why?” as well as “What caused the problem?” more often than not, the answer to the initial “Why” incites a second “Why?” and so on – which ultimately provides the core for “5 Why” analysis.

The aim of the analysis is to keeping on asking “Why” for a minimum of five times, to get to the crux of the matter. Here is a pretty basic example:

  • The client refused to sign off a certain work package. Why didn’t the client sign off the work packages?
  • Because there were some quality issues with the work package. Why were there quality issues with the work package?
  • Because some of the activities of the work package went unsupervised. Why weren’t the activities supervised?
  • We are having a shortage of human resources on the project. Why are we having a shortage of human resources on the project?
  • Because the project manager failed fully to understand the scope of the project. Why didn’t the project manager fully understand the scope of the project?
  • Answer: Because he failed to utilize a proper building information modeling (BIM) which could have provided sufficient information on the scope of the project.
  • Solution: Can you tell the Project Manager to get BIM-enabled software and implement it in the project immediately.

A different problem in the assessment of root cause analysis is in concluding too soon about a problem that has occurred. People are often inclined to the end results, whether they are valid or not. We tend to concluded by failing to answer the basic question, “Why is that happening?”

The experiences we have had as well as our standards tend to make us think about some particular solutions that are limited in data as well as facts. To be more precise, we depend excessively on intuition rather than rationality when identifying the answers to these reasons. The intuitive manner of making decisions is not a baseless one, but it depends on analytical methods and more on the experience as well as gut feelings of the person involved.

Determining the Root Causes of Problems That Arise During a Project

The rational manner of making decisions makes use of evidence as well as facts, while the decision making which involves the use of intuition could contain fewer facts and could be more of a speculation. These types of decisions are instinctive and they are based on intuition instead of actual facts.

As a matter of fact, intuition is the capability to understand information or a situation, without having to engage in conscious reasoning. Generally, people tend to make use of this decision making method when there are insufficient facts or when it is quite difficult to make some critical decisions. Typically, some of the challenges abound in construction projects when carrying out the Root Cause analysis are:

  • There is an inconclusive definition of the problem. Which means that, it is either the definition of the problem is too broad or it is too vague. 
  • There are missing key project members on the RCA investigation team. This typically leads to a limited perspective.
  • There are missing important evidences. This happens when the information obtained on site is limited.
  • The RCA team concentrating on the solutions before fully understanding the main root cause.
  • The RCA team limiting the RCA analysis to one cause only, when the problem could have numerous courses.
  • The inability of the RCA team to discover the direct or main cause of a problem in the project.
  • The RCA team failed to examine deeply enough.

Conclusion

In the final analysis, the Root Cause Analysis is an indispensable tool in dealing with multiple related construction project problems to see if they have a correlation or if they are actually from the same source. Typically, while the Root Cause analysis has its own tools such as the Fish Bone or Ichikawa or the Cause and effect diagram, a simple tool such as BIM can also be used to aid the process of conducting this same analysis.

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