Why vs Who: Root Cause Problem Elimination

Aug 2, 2016 | Leadership in Maintenance Articles, Root Cause, TRM Blog | 0 comments

Tor Idhammar

President & CEO, IDCON, Inc.  Reliability and Maintenance Consultant

an Independent Subsidiary of TRM, Inc.


This root cause analysis training video gives insight into how Root Cause Failure Analysis (rcfa) is commonly managed and how it destroys the thinking process. Torbjörn Idhammar discussed the questions of “Who” versus “Why”.

In Root Cause Problem Elimination (Analysis) it is vital to abstain from the “Blame Game”

A common situation is a Root Cause meeting starts with “Who’s at fault?” rather than “How can this happen?”

Motor Failure Root Cause Analysis

Here’s a great example of a common failure. A motor tripped, at the next investigation meeting. 1st thing that happens is that people start saying “who’s problem is it?”

Well, the motor tripped so operations sits back and says “It’s a maintenance problem, so we are out.” You’ve just lost some thinking capacity with them checking out.

Next the Maintenance guys say, “Well, was it mechanical or electrical/instrumentation?”. The motor tripped, that means electrical/ instrumentation. Now the mechanical folks check out. So, now it just goes into a report saying we had this many hours of downtime because of electrical problems. But no one actually solved the problem of why the motor tripped.

root cause problem elimination


When you play the blame game to solve a problem, you lose the thinking power in the room and never really understand the problem.

This broke the 1st rule of any true RCPE or RCFA investigation and creates wedges between groups.

What are you going to do with the data?

In the example above, what usually happens is a report documents that there was so many hours of downtime because of electrical problems. What’s going to happen? Most times the report just goes to corporate, how useful is it to know how many hours of downtime was due to electrical problems? You have to solve the problem and come up with a solution of why the motor tripped.

To stop focusing on the “Who” and get to the “Why” you have to have a structured method that will solve problems. Start asking “How can a motor trip?” and find those causes. Here’s a great article by Fluke about the 13 common cause of motor failure.

If you need to implement an effective Root Cause Problem Elimination method at your plant? Attend our next training class or contact us for on site support.


Reach out to us at AskTRM@trmnet.com if you have any questions or would like to discuss maintenance and reliability consulting or training.