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5 Examples of Problem Analysis

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A problem analysis is an investigation of the causes of an incident, issue or failure. This is done to identify improvements to systems, processes, procedures, designs and culture. The following are common types of problem analysis.

Cause & Effect Analysis

Problem analysis is focused on identifying cause and effect. It can be very difficult to determine what is cause and what is effect. For example, a problem that initially looks like a human error may be a latent human error that is the result of a poorly designed user interface, system or process.

Root Cause Analysis

There are often a large number of failures that can all be traced back to a handful of root causes. For example, the failure of a network device in a data center might cause thousands of processes, services and machines to fail. Generally speaking, the only way to permanently fix a problem is to address its root causes.

5 Whys

Asking the question why? five times in succession to find deeper causes of a problem. For example, an almond is found in a chocolate product that is supposed to be free of nuts and the following questions are asked to reveal the cause.
A machine wasn't cleaned after a production run of almond chocolate.

The machine's auto clean function malfunctioned.

A part in the machine's cleaning unit failed.

Maintenance wasn't performed on the part for more than 5 years.

Maintenance processes and policies are insufficient.
It is a common theme of 5 whys that problems that initially look like machine or human error are really issues of process and internal controls. It should be noted that when two different teams perform a 5 whys analysis for the same problem they almost always come up with different paths. As such, 5 whys should be viewed as a brainstorming activity as opposed to a means to find the one root cause of a problem.

Fishbone Diagram

A fishbone diagram is a way to visualize a problem with multiple root causes and to categorize root causes. This is often a final output of a problem analysis that can be used to make recommendations to fix various aspects of a problem in areas such as technology, process, procedure, controls, environments and culture. For example, the following fishbone diagram illustrates various root causes for a technology outage of several hours caused by a bug and failed incident management processes.

Change Analysis

Examining what changed leading up to a problem. For example, what software patches were applied to a system that is failing.
Overview: Problem Analysis
An investigation of the causes of an incident, issue or failure.
Related Concepts
Next: Root Cause Analysis
More about problem management:
Five Whys
Human Error
Problem Analysis
Root Cause
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