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Cause analysis tools as a guide to decision making

Results management has become an increasingly powerful tool for aligning teams around a common goal. Making clear the purpose and, above all, the means to achieve results is paramount in keeping the team cohesive and integrated. There are, however, tools that make this process of cause analysis even more powerful, allowing greater visibility and clarity in tracking targets and indicators.

Introduction to Cause Analysis

Many of these tools come from the concept of Quality Management, which emerged to ensure quality and standard manufacturing processes. For this, a series of tools and methods were created to ensure that the manufacturing of the products maintained the quality standard perceived by the market. Most of these methodologies are based on the concept of continuous improvement. This set of activities is summarized by the abbreviation PDCA (acronym for Plan, Do, Check, Act.

The evolution of these tools meant that more and more they left the plants and factories to reach the administration offices. Concepts and tools previously used only in the production lines have come to occupy the routine of managers in all areas of the company. The practical and problem-solving approach allowed the adoption of these methodologies to bring great benefit to the top management, especially because of their objectivity and ease of follow-up.

In practical terms, the Root Cause Analysis process can be defined, in a general scope, as: define the problem, identify the possible causes, verify the real causes, propose a solution to the problem, deploy the solution and analyze the results. In the context of high management, the analysis of causes is generally applied to the deviations of the goals, to identify the main factors that led to the failure of that period. In this way, when dealing with the causes of the deviation managers try to keep the target close to the value to be reached and, therefore, in line with the expectations of the company. There are several tools that can be used in Root Cause Analysis, but each one with its peculiarities. It is up to each team to define which one tools to be applied within their respective realities. Here we will delve into 3 main ones: Pareto Diagram, Ishikawa and Five Whys. Or you can join our best Training for Problem Solving.

Cause analysis tools as a guide to decision making

Pareto diagram

The Pareto Diagram is a tool that allows identifying and selecting items that are responsible for causing a great effect on process improvement, following the relationship: 80% of the results are caused by 20% of the factors. From a problem analysis perspective, it can be stated that 80% of the problems can be solved by treating 20% ​​of the causes.

Thus, for the creation of a Pareto Diagram we must:

  1. Identify a goal that was not reached in a given period
  2. To raise the possible problems that caused the deviation of the goal,
  3. Assign the frequency with which they appear or the degree of relevance,
  4. Sort the data in descending order according to frequency | importance
  5. Calculate the percentage for each item, and create a new column with the cumulative percentage of the series,
  6. Create a chart where the columns represent the frequency and the row is the cumulative percentage,
  7. Select the problems that, with the added percentages, represent 80% of the factors.

Ishikawa diagram

The Ishikawa Diagram, also known as Cause and Effect Diagram or Fishbone Diagram is a graphical tool used to map out the causes of a given problem. Due to its hierarchical form, it allows to group and visualize several causes that are considered as the origin of a problem or of an improvement opportunity that one wishes to achieve, besides its effects on the problem or result.

In its structure, problems can be classified into 6 different “groups”: method, material, labor, machines, measurement and environment. Thus, for the construction of the Ishikawa Diagram it is necessary:

  1. Determine the problem to be analyzed.
  2. Raise information regarding the problem.
  3. To perform, together with the team, a brainstorming of the problem, listing possible causes, both primary and secondary.
  4. Identify the causes most pertinent to the problem and group them according to the 6M’s.
  5. Propose solutions to the causes raised, always leaving a responsible person to implement the solution.

Five Whys

The Five Whys methodology is the simplest of those presented, but no less efficient. It starts with the principle of deepening around a problem, trying to extract its deeper cause. The execution of this methodology is done by questioning why a certain problem happens, consecutively, five times.

The application of the Five Whys technique is especially suitable for problems of few variables. When problems become more complex, analyzes of several other factors become necessary, and this methodology is not sufficient.


Finally, we have brought some of the most used methodologies for the analysis of causes in management processes. The great benefits that this practice brings to the business are: alignment, once the impediments to achieving the results are open to discussion for the whole team; depth, because the analysis is not superficial in any of the cases, the probability of the team to focus on the real cause is greater; and standardization, since all the analyzes follow the same route of execution and aim to reach the root cause for not achieving the goals.

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