Simplified Guide to Incident Root Cause Analysis

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Simplified Guide to Incident Root Cause Analysis

Tor Christensen
Last updated on 18/04/2024

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Incident root cause analysis is crucial for understanding why unexpected events or incidents occur. In this guide, we explore how to effectively conduct incident root cause analysis to prevent future incidents.

Why incident root cause analysis matters

Incident root cause analysis helps organizations dig deep into unexpected events, such as phishing emails or system malfunctions. So why does it matter? By thoroughly investigating these incidents, you can prevent their recurrence and enhance your organization’s resilience.

Incident root causes analysis is part of incident management. Learn Why Every Company Needs an Incident Management System↗️

The four steps of root cause analysis

1. Define the Event

  • What happened?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • What systems were involved?

Example 1 – IT System Outage:

  • Incident: A critical IT system experienced a prolonged outage, disrupting operations.
  • Details: The IT system went offline in the data center on July 15, 20XX, at 10:30 AM. The affected system was the company’s email server.

Example 2 – Workplace Safety Incident:

  • Incident: An employee slipped and fell in the office cafeteria, sustaining injuries.
  • Details: The incident occurred in the cafeteria on May 5, 20XX, during lunchtime.

2. Assemble the Team

Gather the incident response team and relevant stakeholders.

Example 1 – IT System Outage:

  • Team: IT department personnel and system administrators.

Example 2 – Workplace Safety Incident:

  • Team: Safety officer, cafeteria staff, and witnesses.

3. Document and Refine

  • Document the incident thoroughly.
  • Refine the problem’s definition with the team’s consensus.

Example 1 – IT System Outage:

  • Documentation: Detailed documentation of the email server outage.
  • Refined Definition: “The email server outage that occurred on July 15, 20XX, at 10:30 AM.”

Example 2 – Workplace Safety Incident:

  • Documentation: Detailed documentation of the slip and fall incident.
  • Refined Definition: “The slip and fall incident in the cafeteria on May 5, 20XX.”

👉 Recommendation: Make sure your analysis is based on quality data by following our recommendations for setting up incident reporting and improving employee incident reports

4. Investigate and Resolve

  • Ask “Why” repeatedly until you pinpoint the root cause.
  • Attempt a resolution once you identify a likely root cause.

Example 1 – IT System Outage:

  • Investigation: Asking “Why” to uncover the root cause.
    • Why did the email server go down? Due to a hardware failure.
    • Why did the hardware fail? Lack of regular maintenance.
    • Why was maintenance overlooked? Insufficient maintenance scheduling.
  • Resolution: Implement a regular maintenance schedule and improve hardware monitoring.

Example 2 – Workplace Safety Incident:

  • Investigation: Asking “Why” to uncover the root cause.
    • Why did the employee slip and fall? Wet floor.
    • Why was the floor wet? A spilled drink.
    • Why wasn’t it cleaned promptly? Insufficient staff awareness.
  • Resolution: Increase staff awareness, implement quicker spill cleanup procedures, and enhance floor safety.

Analyse to Uncover the Root Cause

During this step, leverage security systems like Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) or logs to uncover the root cause efficiently. Identifying the root cause(s) should guide you toward practical solutions:

  • Interview experts.
  • Use diagnostic tools.
  • Explore common solutions on forums.

Tip! The ‘Five whys‘ is a widely used method for root cause analysis:


By following these steps and keeping your solutions practical, you can master incident root cause analysis and strengthen your organization’s incident prevention capabilities.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is root cause analysis?

Root cause analysis (RCA) is a systematic process for identifying and addressing the underlying reasons behind problems or incidents. It aims to discover the fundamental causes, rather than just addressing symptoms. RCA helps prevent recurrence and improve processes by determining why an issue occurred, leading to more effective solutions.

What is the 5 Whys method?

The 5 Whys method is a problem-solving technique that involves asking “why” five times in succession to identify the root cause of an issue. By probing deeper with each “why” question, it helps uncover underlying factors contributing to a problem, enabling more effective solutions and prevention of recurring issues.

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