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RCA – The Edge-Finder

By: Ed Wells, Head of Development on 19/04/2017

At first thought you might not equate the in-depth problem solving methodology of Root Cause Analysis with performance coaching in elite sport. But that would be overlooking RCA’s emphasis on exposing every detail of an event or problem, making it one of the ultimate generators of marginal gains.

This month we were fascinated to receive feedback from one our recent delegates. He had attended our 2 day course as part of his ‘day job’ in financial services but his report related to his background as an elite athlete and current role as a senior rowing coach at one of the UK’s most successful squads.

From his email we discovered that he’d immediately anticipated the benefits of bringing a more formal analysis into his coaching program. Inspired by Sir Clive Woodward and Sir Dave Brailsford he set about re-packaging what he took from Sologic, aiming for a clearer, more systematic understanding of the challenges his squad faced. He wanted to make RCA the “Edge-Finder” for his elite men’s squad.

Rowing is simultaneously both a simple and complex sport, bringing eight powerful people into a narrow carbon boat, steered and guided by a cox. They train and race on a moving, fluid surface, open to the often violent challenges of the natural elements. Athletes are asked to move in perfect synchronicity, propelling the boat via 40 “deadlifts” per minute with heartrates pushed to their absolute limit for 6 to 7 minutes. Any lack of cohesion between the 8 athletes can bring the boat to a sudden and catastrophic halt. As you can quickly appreciate, there is plenty for the expert coach to consider; from the physical, to the biomechanical, through to the psychological.

One of RCA’s greatest strengths is the order and discipline that is subtly woven through the entire process. The methodology breaks problems down into clearly defined individual component parts. RCA discourages the user from proceeding past any of the 5 stages of the process before each is satisfactorily completed. Within each stage of the process you are rewarded for taking baby steps, rather than being rewarded for leaping from perceived problem to “obvious” solution.

This progressive and extremely effective approach to performance issues is where sports coaches obtain huge advantages when they adopt RCA into their training environment. In fact many of the most successful coaches in elite sport are already running something akin to a basic RCA process. Although in most cases it is substantially fragmented and sadly this fragmentation is almost always large enough for a great many significant advantages and marginal gains to be missed.

In practice we can equate the activities of an effective coach to the 5 mainstays of RCA: Where in RCA we gather data, the sports coach observes and records. Where we create a clear ‘problem statement’ the coach highlights areas of improvement for his or her athletes. Equally, we’re all attempting to relate cause to effect as accurately as we can in the quest for swift solutions that most accurately match our problems. And effective sports teams are no different to other complex organisations in as much as the most successful ones report and present their findings to their staff (athletes) and wider management team.

However, in the high-pressure environment of the elite sports coach these 5 key components of RCA can become ad-hoc, chaotic, disorganised and miscommunicated. In a great many instances coaches will tell us that they usually do cover all aspects of an effective RCA but their emphasis is often wrong. Most commonly they describe a mixture of truncated, or overly long periods of observation, leading to the rushed implementation of “tried and tested” solutions. Here, a measured analysis of cause and effect is largely by-passed, severely limiting the effectiveness of those aforementioned solutions.

Our rowing coach reported back that the real breakthrough for him and his coaching team was in the RCA guidelines giving them the confidence to really dwell on cause and effect before applying solutions. They also reported massive team-cohesion benefits from discussing and understanding RCA’s progressive definition of failure and the rejection of blame culture. The team as whole, athletes included, felt emboldened when it came to adding evidence and comment in regards to the challenges they encountered. The result was that issues concerning technique and training were overcome much more quickly than in previous sessions, and mindset and motivation was noticeably improved.

So what can we all take from this? Fundamentally it tells us that RCA does more than just reveal new aspects of a problem or challenge. The magic is in revealing the significant interactions between what we already know, allowing us to put them in order of significance and more easily apply new and old solutions to best effect.

So the next time you’re watching a football, or a rugby or basketball team getting great results with seemingly limited resources, it’s just possible RCA is behind it.

  1. About Ed Wells

    Head of Development

    Ed joined Sologic in 2016.  With an academic background is in Social Sciences, his early career was in journalism.  In the 1990s he moved into commercial development in retail, mail-order and online.  For 20 years he’s been involved in sales, business development and management with market leaders and SMEs, as well as his own business interests.  Working as an independent consultant and trainer since 2013 he has contributed to numerous projects and businesses across a variety of sectors. In this time Ed has helped both UK and European businesses to better understand their objectives, manage problems and implement effective solutions.

    With experience in both the corporate and SME business environment Ed is familiar with many of the problems that companies encounter and how Root Cause Analysis transforms the solution process and has a particular focus on how RCA can be used to create effective sales goals and accelerate business development programs.  He is an enthusiastic advocate of how developing a strong culture of Root Cause Analysis can transform every aspect of organisational behaviour and deliver outstanding results in the critical areas of company performance.

    More recently Ed has been focussing on how RCA can be implemented to overcome the issue of conflicting goals within organisations, as well as developing Root Cause Analysis theory to better understand the negative impact of more commonly applied solution processes.

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