Selecting Root Causes to Get Your Attention

July 19, 2010 at 7:40 pm Leave a comment

OK. Let’s go to the next step in our systematic approach to improvement. We have to choose what we are going to change that we think will have a positive impact on our resolving all or part of our problem.

If you have been following this series, at this stage in the process we should know a lot about the issue of concern. We have a clear understanding of the background of the issue. We know the work that goes into producing the current results that we are not completely happy with. And we have some idea of what is causing our less than desirable outcomes. So what are we going to do abut it? The temptation here is to jump to a “pet” solution that may or may not be linked directly to one of the real causes of the problem(s) we are having. Or we may be tempted to take on too many solutions at a time making it virtually impossible to attribute success to the thing that may be having the biggest impact on improving our work effort. Be patient. At this stage we want to be sure to select initiatives directly linked to solving a root cause of our problem. We want to be as sure as we can that what we do has a high probably of success.

One tool you might consider using at this stage is a Prioritization Matrix. It is a useful technique you can use with your team members or with your users to achieve consensus about what is most important to the group. The Matrix helps you rank root causes or issues (usually generated through brainstorming) by a particular criterion that is important to your organization. With this you can more clearly see which causes are the most important to work on resolving first. Get the members of your team, or a group of users to participate in the process.

  1. Conduct a brainstorming session on root causes users or team members think may be the most significant causes of your problem.
  2. Fill out the Prioritization Matrix chart with the group:
  3. In the first column, write down the root causes that were mentioned as most important in the brainstorming session.
  4. In the second to fourth columns, define your criteria. Examples of some typical criteria are:
  • Frequency: How frequent is the problem? Does it occur often or only on rare occasions?
  • Importance: From the point of view of the users, what are the most important problems? What are the problems that you want to resolve?
  • Feasibility: How realistic is it that we can resolve the problem? Will it be easy or difficult?

    Prioritization Matrix

    You can choose other criteria if they better fit the situation you are discussing. For example, for a more quantitative comparison, you could use cost, amount of time, or other numerical indicators as the criteria. By using this method of prioritizing root causes, you are able to look at the data and determine which causes are most important according to this group of users. This gives you data to use on making a decision about what the will of the group is in beginning to resolve the problem.

    Think about using this tool when you are planning any CME activity. Many times we f ind that we have more “information”  planners want presented than we have time or resources to include. This tool might help  narrow the focus of your effort.

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