What if you need a root cause?

Mark Galley

Focus on finding the system of causes, not THE root cause, to expand your solution set

For any of you that have attended a webinar or a workshop, you know that in the Cause Mapping approach we use the metaphor “root cause” to mean a system of causes that is below the surface, the details of the incident that you need to get to in order to ensure the problem (the weed) doesn’t come back.  We don’t believe there is a singular, root cause for an incident, from which all the trouble has sprung.  An incident is a product of multiple causes, and therefore can be prevented by multiple solutions.

root cause

 Most of our workshop attendees see this approach once they attend the workshop, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t go back to their organization and that their manager, corporate sponsor, customer or government regulator now sees that there is no singular root cause to an incident.   In a lot of situations your “customers” (internal or external to your organization) still want you to identify or label a root cause in a report or form.  This may not be within your control to influence.  Of course, you can encourage them to attend a workshop to see the error of their ways, but assuming that doesn’t happen, here is how we would recommend fulfilling that requirement.

Just as we teach in the workshop, we don’t differentiate on degrees of causes, but we do differentiate on degrees of effective solutions. If there is one cause that offers the most effective solution to reduce the likelihood of the event re-occurring, identify the cause which that solution controls as the “root cause”.

You can include the other solutions that you are implementing as well, as this may start a discussion about all the causes related to the incident.  As always, the map is an incredible communication tool in showing the network of causes that produce an incident, so including the map in your report may be eye opening for others and start that dialogue easier!

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