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Causal Analysis

Disciplines > Change Management > Diagnosing change > Causal Analysis
Root causes | Circular causes | See also

An excellent question when analyzing around change is 'why?' Causal Analysis seeks to
identify and understand the reasons why things are as they are and hence enabling focus of
change activity.

Root causes
The basic principle of causal analysis is to find causes that you can treat rather than treating
symptoms (which, as all doctors know, seldom effects a lasting cure). A root cause is the basic
reason why something happens and can be quite distant from the original effect.
Ask why five times
The trick with seeking root causes is to keep looking. When you ask 'why' of something, you
will get a nearby direct cause. If you keep asking 'why' of each answer, you will eventually get
to a cause that you can act on. It is not always five times that you as, but it may well be around
this number. The key is just to keep asking until you get to a real 'aha' that you can treat.

Sales figures are down.

Why? Because we are selling less.
Why? Because our customers do not want our products.
Why? Because our competitors have better products.
Why? Because we have not produced good products for a while.
Why? Because in the last change we significantly reduced research investment.

Cause-effect diagram
The Cause-effect Diagram is a simple hierarchical tool that is used to break down cause into a
tree-structure, allowing you to follow individual streams of possible cause. It is usually used to
support brainstorming of possible causes rather than direct analysis of actual causes.

Circular causes
Many causes are not linear but instead act in circles, much as births lead to population increase
which leads to even more births. Understanding circularity allows you to get to the more
pernicious problems that are, with linear analysis, difficult to detect.
Systemic cause
In systemic problems, the cause is found in the whole system, with the problem distributed
across multiple related causes, all of which conspire together to cause the identified effect.
Cultural problems are often like this, with little bits of behavior adding together to form an
overall dysfunction (this is also why cultural change often takes many years).
Vicious spirals and virtuous circles
Circular cause leads to exponential increases or decreases that are very difficult to interrupt. Thus
when you are on a downward spiral (often called a 'vicious spiral'), the whole system feeds off
itself. Thus loss of sales leads to cutbacks in costs which leads to loss of more sales. Notice also
how the same spiral that takes things down can also take them up. Thus increased sales leads to
an increase ability to invest in new product research.

causal analysis
A quality management approach to software development using feedback of defect
data from work product inspections as a means of achieving quality improvements in
development processes. The ultimate goal of causal analysis is defect prevention. The
clear benefit is higher product quality and improved productivity through reductions
in rework.

The software inspection process is in itself a prevention technique, but the statistics
obtained from this process must be augmented with in-depth study to find out what
caused the defects.

The goals of causal analysis are:

To identify development process problem areas in a systematic way

To change the corrective action process from one where a single developer
learns from his or her mistake to one where all developers are familiar with,
and learn from, all mistakes

Prevent repetition of mistakes by improvement of development processes.

Pre-Reading Journal Entry Imagine you had a son or daughter who didnt take school
seriously. How would you go about motivating the child to value academic success?
Would your strategies differ depending on the age and gender of the child? If so,
how and why? What other factors might influence your approach? Use your journal
to respond to these questions IN PRAISE OF THE F WORD Mary Sherry Tens of
thousands of 18-year-olds will graduate this year and be handed meaningless
diplomas. These diplomas wont look any different from those awarded their luckier
classmates. Their validity will be questioned only when their employers discover
that these graduates are semiliterate. Eventually a fortunate few will find their way
into educational repair shops-adult literacy programs, such as the one where I teach
basic grammar and writing. These, highschool graduates and high-school dropouts
pursing graduate-equivalency certificates will learn the skills they should have
learned in high school. They will also discover they have been cheated by our
educational system. As I teach, I learn a lot about our schools. Early in each session
I ask my students to write about an unpleasant experience they had in school. No
writers block here! I wish someone would have had made me stop doing drugs
and made me study. I liked to party and no one seemed to care. I was a good
kid and didnt have any trouble, so they just passed me along even though I didnt
read well and couldnt write. And so on. I am your basic do-gooder, and prior to
teaching this class I blamed the poor academic skills our kids have today on drugs,
divorce and other impediments to concentration necessary for doing well in school.
But, as I rediscover each time I walk into classroom, before a teacher can expect
students to concentrate, he has to get their attention, no matter what distractions
may be at hand. There are many ways to do this, and they have much to do with
teaching style. However, if style alone wont do it, there is another way to show who
holds the winning hand in the classroom. That is to reveal the trump card of failure.
I will never forget a teacher who played that card to get the attention of one of my
children. Our youngest, a world-class charmer, did little to develop his intellectual
talents but always got by. Until Mrs. Stifter. Our son was a high-school senior when
he had her for English. He sits in the back of the room talking to his friends, she
told me. Why dont you move him to the front row? I urged believing the
embarrassment would get him to settle down. Mrs. Stifter looked at me steely-eyed
over her glasses. I dont move seniors, she said. I flunk them. Our sons
academic life flashed before my eyes. No teacher had ever threatened him with that
before. I gained my composure and managed to say that I thought she was right. By
the time I got home I was feeling pretty good about this. It was a radical approach
for these times, but well, why not? Shes going to flunk you, I told my son. I did
not discuss it any further. Suddenly English became a priority in his life. He finished
out the semester with an A. I know one example doesnt make a case, but at night I
see a parade of students who are angry and resentful for having been passed along
until they could no longer even pretend to keep up. Of average intelligence or
better, they eventually quit school, concluding they were too dumb to finish. I
should have been held back, is a comment I hear frequently. Even sadder are those
students who are high-school graduates who say to me after a few weeks if class, I
dont know how I ever got a high-school diploma. Passing students who have not
mastered the work cheats them and the employers who expect graduates to have
basic skills. We excuse this dishonest behavior by saying kids cant learn if they
come from terrible environments they come from-most kids dont put school on
their list of priorities unless they perceive something is at stake. Theyd rather be
sailing. Many students I see at night school give expert testimony on
unemployment, chemical dependency, and abusive relationships. In spite these
difficulties, they have decided to make education a priority. They are motivated by
the desire for a better job or the need to hang on to the one they got. They have a
healthy fear of failure. People of all ages can rise above their problems, but they
need to have a reason to do so. Young people generally dont have the maturity to
value education in the same way my adult students value it. But fear of failure,
whether economic or academic, can motivate both. Flunking as a regular policy has
just as much merit today as it did two generations ago. We must review the threat
of flunking and see it as it really is-a positive teaching tool. It is an expression of
confidence by both teachers and parents that the students have the ability to learn
the material presented to them. However, making it work again would take a
dedicated, caring conspiracy between teachers and parents. It would mean facing
the tough reality that passing kids who havent learned the material-while it might
save them grief for the short-term-dooms them to longterm illiteracy. It would
mean that teachers would have to follow through on their threats, and parents
would have to stand behind them, knowing their childrens best interests are indeed
at stake. This means no more doing Scotts assignments for him because he might
fail. No more passing Jodi because shes a nice kid. This is a policy that worked in
the past and can work today. A wise teacher, with the support of his parents, gave
our son the opportunity to succeed-or fail. Its time we return this choice to all
students. Mary Sherry Following her graduation from Dominican University in 1962
with a degree in English, Mary Sherry (1940- ) wrote freelance articles and
advertising copy while raising her family. Over the years, a love of writing and an
interest in education have been integral to all that Sherry does professionally.
Founder and owner of a small research and publishing firm in Minnesota, she taught
creative and remedial writing to adults for more than twenty years. The following
selection first appeared as a 1991 My turn column in Newsweek Questions for
close reading 1. What is the selections thesis? Locate the sentence(s) in which
Sherry states her main idea. If she doesnt state the thesis explicitly, express it in
your own words. 2. Sherry opens her essay with these words: Tens of thousands of
18-year-olds will graduate this year and be handed meaningless diplomas. Why
does Sherry consider these diplomas meaningless? 3. According to Sherry, what
justifications do any teachers give for passing students who have not mastered the
work (paragraph 8)? Why does Sherry think that it is wrong to pass such students?
4. What does Sherry think teachers should do to motivate students to focus on
school despite the many hand (4)? 5. Refer to your dictionary as
needed to define the following words used in the selection: validity (para 1),
semiliterate (1), equivalency (2), impediments (4), composure (6), radical (6),
priority (6), resentful (7) testimony (9), motivate (10), merit (11), conspiracy (11),
and illiteracy (11). Questions about the Writers Craft 1. The pattern. To write an
effective argumentation-persuasion essay, writers need to establish their credibility.
How does Sherry convince readers that she is qualified to write about her subject?
What does this attempt to establish credibility say about Sherrys perception of her
audiences point of view? 2. Sherrys title is deliberately misleading. What does her
title lead you to believe the essay will be about? Why do you think Sherry chose this
title? 3. Why do you suppose Sherry quotes her students rather than summarizing
what they had to say? What effect do you think Sherry hopes the quotations will
have on readers? 4. Other patterns. What example does Sherry provide to show that
the threat of failure can work? How does this example reinforce her case?