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Resourcing root cause analysis

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 11 Feb 2022

Firms setting out on their quality management journey are likely to be thinking about root cause analysis and where to start. A key question is whether to resource externally or keep it in-house.

The size and structure of a root cause analysis (RCA) team will depend on the size of the audit practice. There may be capacity, experience, and skillsets within the organisation for an in-house function to provide RCA, or additional support may be required from an external RCA provider, or indeed a sole practitioner or small practice might be doing the RCA themselves.

In this article from ICAEW’s Audit and Assurance Faculty, Natalie Gladwin, Head of Root Cause Analysis and Director at Grant Thornton UK, explores RCA resourcing decisions.

Resourcing in-house

There are several benefits to resourcing RCA in-house, not least that the RCA investigator/s have a knowledge of the firm to draw upon in their analysis of the evidence gathered.

For in-house resourcing to be most effective, the individuals involved need to understand the principles of RCA, and have strong analysis and facilitation skills. Being able to facilitate interviews and draw out the information required from audit team members who may have limited memory of the details of a specific audit is important. Having an experienced auditor involved in RCAs can help understand the technical issues at hand. Experienced auditors from the audit practice volunteering to support with interviews can provide additional capacity, enabling dedicated RCA staff to focus on the more significant findings. Volunteers who obtain an insight into what causes may have led to a particular quality event, can then implement those learnings within their own teams too.

However, it is also worth considering whether auditors involved in RCA have preconceptions or biases that could influence their analysis, and whether there are benefits to having specialist RCA investigators with little prior audit experience, bringing different perspectives to investigations and challenge the thinking of auditors involved. A successful team brings together a breadth of knowledge and experience, and the diversity of thinking can add value to RCA investigations by unlocking other avenues for exploration that an auditor may have ruled out based on their prior knowledge and experience.

Where the audit team whose audit file is subject to the RCA is involved in RCA interviews and contributing to actions, the firm’s leadership may wish to consider timing of the RCA and the audit team’s workload. A busy season audit, followed by an external or internal inspection, followed directly by root cause analysis interviews and action planning, may make the audit team feel as though the audit is never-ending. Audit fatigue and possibly staff attrition could negatively impact learnings and actions. This does, however, need to be balanced against audit testing being fresh in the audit team’s memory.

Using an external provider

Where there is limited capacity within the firm, or limited experience in investigations or RCA, the use of an external specialist RCA provider could be considered. Using a specialist provider takes the pressure off any resource-constrained teams and can provide expert facilitation and investigation experience where it is required.

An external provider can also provide training, support, and guidance to any in-house RCA team members, ensuring that they are developing appropriate skills for the role. This could be formal training or workshops, or supporting alongside in-house RCA work. There are cost implications in involving an external provider, and a cost-benefit analysis is often helpful.

One of the key benefits of an external provider is clarity of thinking, and challenging biases or fixed ideas. This can unlock causal factors that may not naturally be considered by auditors who may “fill the gaps” with their own presumptions, leading to a deeper understanding of the root causes and their interaction, to enable more focused problem solving.

Ultimately an understanding of the potential impact of the quality events being considered will determine the extent of the investigation and therefore the extent of resourcing required; the key point is that firms learn from their quality findings through implementing an RCA approach, and whether that is resourced in-house or by a dedicated external provider will vary depending on the specific needs of the firm.

This article follows How to get started with root cause analysis and Action planning and continuous quality management in the faculty’s special quality management-focused February edition of Audit & Beyond magazine.

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This guidance is created by the Audit and Assurance Faculty – recognised internationally as a leading authority and source of expertise and know-how on audit and assurance matters. Join the Faculty to connect with like-minded professionals and gain access to essential guidance and technical advice.

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