Let 2018 Be the Tipping Point for Your Facility’s RCA Program

Let 2018 Be the Tipping Point for Your Facility’s RCA Program

by Dave Righthouse – Senior Project Manager, Engineering Services

As we progress through life, we inevitably encounter tipping points – those pivotal moments when circumstances conspire to alter our trajectory in some critical way. We sometimes pass through these moments without even noticing them at the time. Then, somewhere down the road, we stop to reflect and realize, ‘It was then that I began doing this’ or ‘That event altered my thinking enough to change the way I do that’ (whatever “that” is) or ‘I would never be doing it like this if we hadn’t….’

For many of us, a root cause analysis (RCA) produces the same kind of tipping point. We initially experience the RCA as a long, drawn-out process that needlessly ties up several people. Our procedures and other requirements mandate that we do it. It eats up a lot of time, and often we arrive at solutions that had already been proposed before we even started the whole process. On top of that, it’s just such a drag to try and get everyone to engage in good, solid thinking.

But somewhere along the way, we realize ‘We would never have thought of that if we hadn’t conducted the investigation and kept drilling down to uncover that cause.’ And in that pause to reflect, we see a tipping point. Actually, these types of tipping points occur often, whether in a RCA investigation or some other event. And frequently we don’t capture them. They’re like aha-moments that pass by in a fleeting instant, seldom to be noticed.

Tipping points often align with abductive thinking, which pushes us beyond our comfort zone, beyond our level of experience and into something new and foreign – a different perspective, a better understanding or a deeper outlook. It reveals the less obvious.

Inductive thinking derives solely from our experiences and past observations, whereas abductive thinking springboards us off these into new areas. While we still utilize our experiences and observations in abductive thinking, they serve as launching pads rather than anchors. How could things be different? What if I didn’t have this experience holding me back? As other aspects begin to be illuminated, our thinking opens up, and we invite new processes and possibilities into our realm. We intentionally try to think beyond our empirical experience, which makes us receptive to different perspectives and unconventional viewpoints that might not fit within our usual worldview.

I often listen to a National Public Radio news quiz show called ‘Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me.’ Each week, the contestant – a celebrity of one sort or another – listens to a series of three ‘stranger than fiction’ stories that all sound implausible. Two of them are in fact fictional, fabricated by the show’s writers, and the contestant must choose the true one.

In a recent episode, the contestant was a world-famous scientist considered one of the most intelligent beings on the planet. He scored only one correct answer in three attempts. When the show’s host expressed sorrow that he hadn’t won, the scientist graciously begged to differ. “I didn’t lose today,” he said. “I learned two new things. Had I gotten them all correct, I would not have learned anything. Today’s been a very productive day.”

His words made a lot of sense to me. If I’m open to learning new things, I don’t worry about being wrong, as long as I can learn from it. I can still make use of my experiences and observations – but can be open to new ideas, perspectives and viewpoints.

When I facilitate an RCA investigation, I keep in mind that every incident provides an opportunity to learn, to reveal something less obvious and to see things in a new light. If, at the end of the investigation, I can say, “I never would’ve thought of that,” then the RCA has been a success. I walk away with a new perspective, usually something I can share with others that will benefit them as well.

So how can you make 2018 a tipping point at your plant? For starters, assess your RCA program. If it doesn’t pass muster, take steps to improve it. The changes you implement can make your staff more receptive to new ideas – which can in turn set the stage for a tipping point.

Here are some questions for your team to consider in assessing the RCA program:

  • Have we identified a formal RCA program?
  • Do we have a sufficient number of people trained in the RCA process?
  • Do we take the initiative to start an RCA — or avoid it until directed to by a higher authority?
  • Do we view an RCA as an opportunity – or strictly as an obligation?
  • Do we understand that an RCA is conducted to identify and implement solutions – not to assign blame?
  • Once we’ve identified and implemented solutions, do we seek out the right metrics to use in measuring their success?
  • Do we monitor those metrics and report the results?
  • If we don’t achieve the metrics as anticipated, do we look for alternative solutions?
  • How willing would we be to adopt the approach suggested here?
  • What actions would we consider to close any gaps we’ve identified?

Many facilities in our fleet already answer these questions in the affirmative. Once we truly believe that each incident provides an opportunity to improve, it alters our path in ways we never anticipated. It opens us up to new ideas that help us perform at a higher level and make our best even better.

If you could use some guidance in assessing your RCA program or would just like to know more about the process, contact me or Jennifer Koffenberger or Brian Beatty. We’ll be glad to help you out.