Digging Down to the Real Causes of Business Disruption

Sometimes, despite the best laid plans for business continuity, something breaks and business is disrupted. While the priority is to get business operations back in working order, it’s often worth taking a moment afterwards to reflect on the cause of the problem. There may be a big difference between the symptoms of the problem (for instance, a production line keeps breaking down); and the real cause (nobody renewed the maintenance and support contract). These two aspects must be distinguished and handled properly. In our example, you’d get the production line working again first, then put a contract in place for regular preventive maintenance. Symptoms are usually obvious. But what’s the best way of finding out the underlying cause?

A popular technique that applies to business continuity and disaster recovery as well is Root Cause Analysis (RCA). It involves five main steps:

  1. Define the problem. Observe and describe the specific symptoms.
  2. Collect data. Find out how long the problem has been in existence and the impact it is having.
  3. Identify factors that could cause the problem (and its symptoms). Look for the conditions under which the problem occurs, sequences of events that trigger the problem, and any other associated problems.
  4. Identify root causes. Don’t stop at the first one or two factors in step 3 above. Keep digging and asking ‘why’ until you get down to the real roots. For instance, you may find that the product line keeps breaking, because there’s no preventive maintenance, which in turn is because an IT system failed to alert management, all because the IT department reorganised 6 months ago, and this particular application ‘fell through the cracks’ (hint: now start looking at what else might have fallen through the cracks too!)
  5. Recommend and implement solutions.

There are several management tools and methods that can help you to do better RCA, including impact analysis, fishbone diagrams and failure mode and effect analysis. But you can also prevent a good part of any future business disruption simply with the five RCA steps above and common sense.

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