Archive for the ‘Root Cause’ Category

This is a useful technique you may want to try next time you need to quickly prioritise some actions with a large group of stakeholders who have varied levels of experience with agile.

In our case, we were trying to find a framework to help decide what actions to take to improve one of our testing environments. The stakeholders ranged from the development teams who used the environment to test their work, to the IT Ops team who used it to test the deployment process, to the head of the division who obviously had an interest in ensuring things got to Production as efficiently and correctly as possible. After a process of re-affirming the goals of the environment in question and highlighting the issues that were currently being experienced, we found ourselves with a list of thirty problems that needed prioritisation.

In order to do so, I first had everyone plot the problems across a horizontal axis based on the effort/cost/difficulty they associated with solving the problem. As not everyone knew about sizing (and, sometimes when people are familiar with sizing, it can also confuse things), I used a scale of animals. I made the scale clear (an image) plus had a picture of each animal plotted along the horizontal axis. The group quickly grasped the concept and set about categorising problem solutions from cat to blue whale.

Animal sizes scale

Animal sizes scale

Once they had plotted all the problems along an investment (time and/or money and/or skills) scale, it was time to categorise the problems according to impact. For this I added a vertical axis with three sections: showstopper, major and inconvenient. The important bit was that I provided a clear and simple definition for each of these to make sure everyone was speaking the same language.

We used stickies plotted on big sheets of paper on a table so that people could move around easily. At the end of about 15 minutes, a group of about 16 people from different teams and backgrounds had categorised thirty problems by size and impact to form a useful framework for prioritising actions. Documentation was as easy as taking a photo with my cell phone.


UPDATE 16/11/2015: Animal images resource (for printing).


Cause & Effect

Posted: March 26, 2014 in Root Cause
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Cause-EffectOne of the techniques I don’t think I’ve fully mastered is the well-known “Five Why’s” technique. On paper it seems fairly simple: keep asking why until you reach the root cause (which typically involves a ‘people/management’ factor). In practice, it seems far more challenging. I find the causes usually stay at the superficial/symptom level or one ends up down a rabbit warren. This is one techniques that I need some coaching on before I will be effective.

That said, one of the complementary tools I did stumble across in my reading is the cause-effect diagram and I have found this very effective when mapping a problem-solution type conversation. So far I’ve intentionally used it twice: once in a five-why session and once to track a conversation my team was having during a retrospective about a statement I had made around our delivery for the sprint. In the latter instance, I did have a technique prepared which I was going to use to facilitate some analysis of the sprint outcomes, but after making my introductory statement, the team ran with the analysis without any prompting at all. While they spoke, I silently tracked key points using the cause-effect diagram and later used it to come back and probe points that required further unpacking. We then used the picture on the board to identify actions – both immediate (for the next sprint) and longer term. Documentation was also easy: a photograph of the diagram with highlighted actions.