Finding a Root Cause

This is part of an ongoing series. It continues from Coming up with a business idea, part 2. Visit Walking, Peanuts, and Systems if you’d like to start at the beginning.

To find a root cause, I want to examine all of the leaf nodes and see which nodes affect the entire tree if changed. Here is the tree I’m considering:

Current Reality Tree

There are potentially multiple nodes that could be a root cause, so the next step is to pick one that seems to be addressable.


  • Estimates contain uncertainty
  • There are always new projects to start
  • Cutting corners speeds up delivery

These are causes that are almost true by definition. I wouldn’t necessarily have to “fix” them, but choosing any of these as a starting point would be a last resort.

Unlikely to Change

  • Projects start with estimates
  • Delivery dates rely on estimates
  • Future work depends on previous work
  • People ask for tight windows of uncertainty

We could theoretically change any of these, but that would require drastic changes in how projects normally operate. For example, we could choose to start a project and deliver when it’s finished without committing to any type of delivery date. That seems very unlikely to ever be a normal way of working.

Non Root Causes

  • We use conversations to resolve uncertainty
  • It is uncertain what work is important
  • People want to be seen as reliable

These are not root causes. Even if I fully solved them, other parts of the tree would be unaffected.

Possible Areas to Focus

  • It is hard to predict how shortcuts affect future work

This doesn’t really make sense as a root cause. If it were truly a root cause, then projects would only go off course because of shortcuts. However, projects regularly go off course for many other different reasons.

This suggests that my CRT is not 100% accurate. This cause is part of a self-reinforcing loop. So rather than being a cause, it is an accelerator. I could change the cause from We are under time pressure to make estimates to We are under INCREASING time pressure to make estimates.

Again, this change vibes with what I’ve seen in practice. As we deliver late, we get more pressure to shrink the time on future projects. With less time to estimate, we make more mistakes, the project is delivered even later, and time pressure increases yet again.

  • It is difficult to capture uncertainty

This seems like a good root cause. It doesn’t feel like I’ll have to work around a fundamental law of nature. If I solve it sufficiently, that would improve or solve all of the original complaints.

My next step is to further evaluate my potential root cause and gain confidence that it is truly a root cause worthy of solving.