Root cause analysis in testing – Test beyond the obvious

One of the sessions at the online testing conference we sponsored was held by Kevin Wilkes – Senior test consultant at Qualitest & Richard Morgan – UK Delivery manager at Qualitest. This is a summary of his session about Root Cause Analysis in testing.

What is RCA – Root Cause Analysis in testing?

RCA is a process designed for use in investigating and categorizing the root causes of events with:

  •         Safety
  •         Environmental
  •         Health
  •         Quality
  •         Reliability
  •         Production impacts

We often talk about Events in Root Cause Analysis – What is an event?

There are a lot of things we can talk about when we talk about events – Software failure, Process improvements, hardware failure and more.

The term event is used to generically identify occurrences that produce or have the potential to produce these types of consequences.

Simply stated, RCA is a tool designed to help identify not only what and how an event occurred, but also why. When we do an investigation to prevent an event from happening again in the future we try to see all level so we can find the root cause.

So what do we mean when we say Root Cause?

Root causes are those for which effective recommendations for preventing recurrences can be generated.

Root cause maybe the underline for why something has happened.

root cause analysis in testing

Root causes are underlying causes.

The investigators goal should be to identify specific underlying causes. You want to know when the happened, where did it happened, why did it occurred?

The more specific the investigator can be about why an event occurred, the easier it will be to arrive at recommendations that will prevent recurrence.

Root causes are those that can reasonably be identified.

  • Occurrence investigations must be cost beneficial. It is not practical to keep valuable manpower occupied indefinitely searching for the root causes of occurrences.
  • Structured RCA helps analysts get the most out of the time they have invested in the investigation.

Root causes are those over which management has control.

Analysts should avoid using general cause classifications such as operator error, equipm failure or external factor. Such causes are not specific enough to allow management to effective changes.

Eventually, we need to understand how we manage the solution and how do we manage the information going forward and can we control it.

Root causes are those for which effective recommendations can be generated.

The information we putting forward- it can’t be vague, Recommendations should directly address the root causes identified during the investigation. It’s important to know that when we come with an answer we need to make sure we come with the right answer and that it has enough information so we can make a decision.

When we do RCA we have to follow 4 major steps:


Step 1 – Data collection –

         Talk to people

         Analysis gathering

         Investigate the cost

         Look at the process

         What data was used

         What triggered the event?

The easiest way to understand all level of the event is to start looking in to causal factors. So once we’ve done all the data collection we can move forward to the next step.

Step 2 – Causal factor charting

Causal factor charting provides a structure for investigators to organize and analyze the information gathered during the investigation and identify gaps and deficiencies in knowledge as the investigation progresses.


We build this process over time so we than have some information to help us in the future and we won’t need to ask the same questions over and over again. We now know what to look for to find the solution.


Step 3 – Root cause identification

After all the causal factors have been identified, the investigators begin root cause identification.


It doesn’t matter which is the prime resource of information- we have the problem and the root cause can change but it will be easier to identify it. When we have a tree structure immediately before us we can determine whether or not we going down the right root.   


Step 4 – Recommendation generation and implementation

The next step is the generation of recommendations – If you’ll do the right things according to what you found you can prevent events from happening.

In conclusion, When talking about root cause analysis we try to get to the most effective recommendations for preventing recurrences can be generated. We can take 4 steps to achieve that in the best way – Data collection, Causal factor charting, Root cause identification and Recommendation generation and implementation.
Have a great testing!

Read more about Test management – The must-have functionality


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