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How to use cause-effect diagrams

How to Use Cause-Effect Diagrams

Here’s the basic process:

  1. Select a problem – anything that’s bothering you - and write it down.
  2. Trace “upwards” to figure out the business consequences, the “visible damage” that your problem is causing.
  3. Trace “downwards” to find the root cause (or causes).
  4. Identify and highlight vicious cycles (circular paths)
  5. Iterate the above steps a few times to refine and clarify your diagram
  6. Decide which root causes to address and how (i.e. which countermeasures to implement)

Later on, follow up. If your countermeasures work, then congratulations! If your countermeasures didn’t work, then don’t despair. Analyze why it didn’t work, update your diagram based on the new knowledge gained, and try some other countermeasures.

So a countermeasure is in fact an experiment, not a solution. Your hypothesis is that this countermeasure will solve (or mitigate) the problem, but you can never be sure. You are in effect prodding your system to see how it reacts. That’s why the follow-up is important.

Failure really just means that your system is trying to tell you something – so you’d better listen. The only real failure is the failure to learn from failure!

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