Cause Mapping

Cause Mapping
Cause Mapping is the practical application of the concepts discussed earlier - systems thinking, the principle of cause and effect, the steps of problem solving and the importance of creating a visual dialogue for better communication within an organization an dthe relation with root cause analysis The three basic steps of cause mapping follow the same three steps of problem solving – goals (the outline), causes and solutions.  Each part will be explained in this and the pages after.

I.  The Outline
The outline of a problem is just that, an outline.  Writing a problem description as a paragraph can take too long and provide too little information.  Since there are specific pieces of information that need to be captured for a problem it’s simpler to outline the issue.  The outline is a checklist for problem solving.  The outline is a modification to the standard WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, HOW and WHY questions.  Each of these questions will be addressed here.  If our focus is on prevention we need people willing to come forward with specific information.  To do this we must eliminate the blame and punishment approach (Deming).  For these reasons we do not ask WHO questions in the outline.  When we ask a group of people “What’s the problem?” we must be prepared for multiple responses.  People see things differently.  These different points of view can now be easily accommodated.  Write down the one or two or three points of view to the WHAT question and move on.  There are two main components of the WHEN question.  The date and time the problem occurred and the relative timing.  The relative timing answers the question “What was different this time?”  For a piece of equipment the relative timing might be during increases in load, for a late delivery the relative timing might be the first time on this new route.  For a car accident we might say while it was raining.  The relative timing may or may not be causally related to the incident, but this will be determined during the analysis step.  The WHERE question has several components.  There is the physical location where the incident occurred, there is the process location and there is the relative location, for example, next to the operating fan. The relative location is analogous to the relative timing mentioned in the WHEN question.  The HOW and WHY questions provide causes and for this reason are not part of the outline.  HOW and WHY questions are part of the analysis and asked when the cause map is built.

The last question is added to the WHAT, WHEN, WHERE questions.  It is the GOALS question.  It asks how this incident impacts the overall goals of the organization.  Problems are defined by goals.  What happens in one part of an organization can effect what happens in another because an organization is a system.  The better an organization becomes at recognizing the interconnectedness within a business, the better it becomes at working together to prevent those things that impact the overall goals.  Every incident, regardless of how small, should be framed within the overall goals to keep everyone on target.  Outlining incidents in terms of the goals allows the technician in the field to frame the problem the same way as the business unit manager.  The technician and the manger will see a different WHAT in the beginning of the outline, but the impact to the overall goals will be the same regardless of where they are in the organization.  For this reason the information in “Impact to the Overall GOALS,” not the answers to the WHAT question, provides that start of the cause map.  The separation of the WHAT question and the Overall GOALS question provides a check to ensure that the focus has not been missed.  This alignment within the within the context of the overall goals significantly improves understanding at the beginning of an analysis.

Who What When Where

The GOALS not only dictate problems, they also prioritize a list of problems and remind everyone to focus their efforts on what is important overall.  There are many incidents that require immediate action in the field.  Please don’t think that anytime a problem occurs we need to get everyone together and first build a cause map. The overall goals will dictate how we proceed.  Is this issue routine or is it an emergency?  For most industrial companies the overall goals include safety, environmental, customer service, production, maintenance and the frequency of occurrence.  These six areas are the questions within the GOALS section of the outline.  The outline of the issue should take no more than five to ten minutes and should be done consistently as the first step of every problem solving session or meeting.  Some of the information may not be available at that particular time, like the total maintenance cost, so make an estimate and add a question mark.  The actual amount can be added it when it becomes available.  The outline of the problem is a simple checklist of the important information that should be captured at the beginning of each and every problem.  The cause mapping outline is similar to the What, When, Where and Extent used in the New Rational Manager (Kepner Tregoe pg.30)

Depending on the nature of the problem there are three additional tools that may prove valuable when outlining an issue.  In addition to the WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and GOALS just covered, a timeline, diagrams and process maps may be useful.  These additional tools are intended to complement the WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and GOALS, which are employed every time, to provide a complete outline of the problem.

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