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Can I build the Cause Map ahead of time?

Mark Galley
Yes, you can start the Cause Map before the meeting.  Problem solving involves collecting and organizing all relevant information.  As soon as a problem is contained, information collection can begin.  People forget details, parts get misplaced and information gets lost, so the longer you wait, the more challenging it becomes to put together a complete record.

No need to wait

It may take days to align everyone’s calendar for a meeting.  There’s no need for the facilitator to wait to begin collecting facts.  Use the time to do some prework.  Even though you may not have all the details there’s plenty that can be captured.  A basic Cause Map with 3 to 5 to 7-Why questions is a fine way to start.  If more cause-and-effect relationships are available capture those too.  If there are unknowns, which is normal in an investigation, just label them with a question mark.  They point out where information is needed.

Jump in

The Problem Outline can be filled out right away.  Get the specifics about what happened, when it happened, where it happened (include the equipment, systems and work processes) as well as the impact to each of the overall goals.  A timeline can also begin with just a few entries that will expand as detail becomes available.  Information collection is an iterative process, so don’t be concerned if initially it looks sparse.  Just get started with the information that’s available.

Biasing the group?

The concern many people have with a pre-built Cause Map is that it can bias the group.  It’s probably important to note that each of us is already bias to our own point of view.  Evidence and facts are what keep an investigation objective.  If a pre-built analysis can affect the integrity of an investigation, then that organization is not using a scientific approach.  Opinion, anecdotes and seniority aren’t the basis of sound problem solving.  That type of situation warrants its own investigation: “Why won’t people share what they know?”

A visual dialogue is engaging

It’s beneficial that a pre-built Cause Map is visual.  Everyone can see what’s been collected so far.  All the cards are dealt face up.  The facilitator should give a quick disclaimer that the information is just preliminary and ask everyone to point out what’s missing or needs to be changed.  When you give people permission to challenge information it seems to take them about 0.1 seconds to find errors.

ThinkReliability has preworked investigations for years.  We’ve found it to be an effective way to get the group engaged.  Even if you only have one hour before the meeting, there’s still time for a basic Problem, Timeline and Cause Map.  The prework can be organized on chart paper and whiteboard, it can be printed as a packet for each attendee or it can be projected directly from the Cause Mapping template in Excel.  The investigation pre-work is just a matter of the facilitator being prepared.  If you want to make the meeting take longer definitely don’t do any pre-work, just start from scratch.

Test the prework approach

Experiment with this prework approach.  Test it on one of your investigations and get your own evidence.  Did it bias the group, or did it help engage everyone?  Did the investigation start quicker?  Was the overall time shorter?  Find out what works and let us know.  If there are other topics related to risk, reliability or root cause analysis that you’d like hear more about send us an email or just call the office.

Additional resources:

DOWNLOAD: Cause Mapping Root Cause Analysis Template in Excel

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