The Psychology of Quality and More

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Root cause analysis

Causes do not come alone they bring their friends: many causes are, in turn, caused by other causes, which have their own causes, and so on until the cause underneath it all is found: this is the root cause, and the process of finding is called root cause analysis.

For example, an instrument which is 'dead on arrival' is caused by a failed component which is caused by having a component which cannot withstand low pressure and  being in a low pressure environment which is caused by being shipped in a depressurized airplane hold.

If you can find the root cause, then fixing it will fix the problem. So the above problem could be solved either by changing the component or shipping the instrument overland. 

See also:

Cause-Effect Diagram, 5 Whys

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