A Little Confession…

What would the Internet be without Wikipedia? I remember when it was still a brand new thing back in 2001... and what an awesome thing it was, and still is: the Open Source philosophy applied to human knowledge itself. Can you imagine not being able to look something up on Wikipedia, if only to get a quick précis of some topic that just caught your interest for a moment?

Unsurprisingly, Wikipedia has a page for Root Cause Analysis. If you look at its history, you can see that it was created back on September 15, 2003. The current version (as of October 3, 2014) is arguably better, certainly more complete, and obviously much longer (though not the longest it has ever been). Many people have added, deleted, revised, and replaced portions of that page over the years. The content has changed significantly in that time. Curiously, though, one part has remained relatively untouched for about 8 years. Here's how it looked back when it was finalized on December 18, 2006 (embedded links removed).

Root cause analysis is not a single, sharply-defined methodology; there are many different tools, processes, and philosophies of RCA in existence. However, most of these can be classed into five, very-broadly defined "schools" that are named here by their basic fields of origin: safety-based, production-based, process-based, failure-based, and systems-based.

  • Safety-based RCA descends from the fields of accident analysis and occupational safety and health.
  • Production-based RCA has its origins in the field of quality control for industrial manufacturing.
  • Process-based RCA is basically a follow-on to production-based RCA, but with a scope that has been expanded to include business processes.
  • Failure-based RCA is rooted in the practice of failure analysis as employed in engineering and maintenance.
  • Systems-based RCA has emerged as an amalgamation of the preceding schools, along with ideas taken from fields such as change management, risk management, and systems analysis.

Despite the seeming disparity in purpose and definition among the various schools of root cause analysis, there are some general principles that could be considered as universal. Similarly, it is possible to define a general process for performing RCA.

Compare that to the latest version and you'll see that it's hardly been touched since it was first added. I don't know how many people have read that passage, but it's got to be a very large number. Truth be told, I don't know how it has survived all that time, given how much the rest of the page has been hacked apart, and that it's not a quote or excerpt, and that it has absolutely no references... or has it become its own reference? What process causes that, non deletionem acclamatio (acclamation by non-deletion, sorry for bad Latin)? Or is it an instance of citogenesis? (Shout out to xkcd!)

Root Cause Analysis of Citogenesis by xkcd

Whatever the mechanism, it has kind of become a part of the standard description of root cause analysis... at least for people that get most of their information from the Internet (umm, everybody?).

So, what's the point of this blog post? What is this little confession all about? Hmm, let's just say that back in 2006, I was a hapless Wikipedia user whose brain generated (i.e., invented) some facts about root cause analysis that then got typed into Wikipedia...

by Bill Wilson
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Last updated: November 18, 2014 at 12:34 pm

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