Root Cause Analysis with Write-Back

 In Use Cases

It’s now easier than ever for companies to effectively measure all aspects of their business activity, as data is easily gathered across the board, and analytics tools can really help.

As the business grows, or simply when facing uncertain times like we are now, increasing numbers of incidents or out-of-pattern events can occur. These can either be caused by faults or problems and lead to our business underperforming or be positive and trigger unexpected favourable outcomes. Whatever the case, it is fundamentally important to understand what happened in the first place, allowing the prevention of future issues or the ability to secure repeat successes.

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a method of identifying the underlying, primary causes of an incident so that the best solutions can be implemented.

It can also be followed when things are going well. Root Cause Analysis comprises three goals:

  • Work out why the problem happened in the first place, using a specific set of steps and tools.
  • Fully understand how to fix or learn from the underlying issues within the root cause.
  • Apply what we learned from the analysis to the future. What was the incident? Why did it happen? What will be done to prevent it from happening (or to make it happen) again?

This method can be employed in almost every industry, using a large number of different techniques. Some of the most common include:

  • 5 whys: every answer to a “Why?” question is followed with an additional, deeper “But why?”. These further questions need to drill into the actual specifics of the business, and generally 5 “why” questions can lead to most root causes.
  • Change/event analysis: by carefully analysing the changes that lead up to an event using a set of steps, the root cause of the problem or overachievement can be understood. This approach is normally used when there are a large number of potential causes.

With Tableau, spotting these events in data and business processes becomes an easy task. You can very easily create your own formula that will highlight them among your data crowd and then analyse the data for an event. However, most of the time your data won’t give you the full picture and this is when you need business users to provide additional context and knowledge in order to perform the Root Cause Analysis methodology.

Let’s think of a common-use case in the sales business: every month, the sales team needs to signal and analyse values in their sales or profit data. They must be able to easily spot and highlight big changes or deviations in those values and make sense of them, by performing a root cause analysis. In this case, they want to know why the monthly profit value in some of the countries where the business operates is lower or higher than a certain predefined (and expected) range. What could be going wrong in some of their locations? And why are others doing so well? How can the team replicate the root cause successes?

How can you achieve this is if Tableau won’t allow it ‘out of the box’? This is where Write-Back really shines.

By leveraging Write-Back, users can create new data records for every potential event causing an impact on profits, while associating them with the profit value of a business location.

For instance, the following fields can be created:

  • The date of each event;
  • A description of the event causing the impact on our values;
  • A categorisation by how much influence we had over it (ex: internal/external);
  • The estimated impact of the event on our revenue;
  • A field describing whether the event is unrelated, correlated, a contributing factor or even the root cause of the problem; this is where the root cause analysis happens;
  • And finally, the conclusions of the analysis. In other words, what can be done to avoid or replicate the root cause.

With Write-Back, you can easily input relevant data on these events represented in Tableau visualizations, while preserving that information in a database. Users can freely configure the multiple fields presented and capture their feedback in a structured process. These interpretation inputs can then be easily integrated into both pre-created and new visualizations, allowing users to remain in their flow of analysis even when providing feedback. This is only possible because Write-Back generates standard tables that are very easy to incorporate into Tableau data sources.

One of the greatest advantages of using Write-back to manage a root cause analysis is the fact that it includes an audit feature. The member of the monitoring team responsible for the changes in the analysis can be identified, and the record is stored in a separate table in the database, allowing for the tracking of changes. Monthly analyses are also stored so that users can access their history.

Summary

Root Cause Analysis can give us back control over our business by helping determine the base factor/factors that contribute to an event. This kind of analysis, combined with the possibilities that Write-Back offers, can help teams prioritise and protect key factors, as well as translating successes in one area of the business to another. This way, Write-back becomes a fundamentally helpful tool to use when following a root cause analysis approach.

8 min