What is a critical root cause?

A root cause is the beginning of the cause-effect relationship*. Thus when working down the chain of causes and effects from a problem to its cause, a Root Cause Analysis (RCA) meets causes themselves being effects of some underlying causes and so on, down to the root cause from which everything about the problem originated.

According to wikipedia, a root cause “is an initiating cause of either a condition or a causal chain that leads to an outcome or effect of interest. Commonly, root cause is used to describe the depth in the causal chain where an intervention could reasonably be implemented to improve performance or prevent an undesirable outcome.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Root_cause

In “The Logical Thinking Process, A Systems Approach to Complex Problem Solving”, my mentor and friend Bill Dettmer defines a root cause as:

  • *The beginning of the cause-effect relationship
  • The lowest cause in the chain before passing outside the sphere of influence – the most basic thing one can do something about
  • The first cause beyond the sphere of influence, where someone can’t personally do anything about

In the context of the Logical Thinking Process (LTP) and more specifically when working with Current Reality Trees (CRT), a root cause is an entity with arrows coming out but no arrow going in. In this context a root cause is not necessarily something negative.

So far for the root cause, but what is a critical root cause?

Critical root cause

According to Dettmer, a root cause can be a historical event of the past or a fact of life nobody can do anything about. A root cause can also be out of the sphere of influence to change. Therefore, in order to solve problems and remove Undesirable Effects (UDEs), the problem solvers must search for critical root causes, which are defined as:

A policy, practice or prevalent behavior that constitute the lowest level of causality in existing reality lying within someone’s sphere of influence to change. (The Logical Thinking Process, A Systems Approach to Complex Problem Solving, page 108).

Bandeau_CH160601View Christian HOHMANN's profile on LinkedIn

3 thoughts on “What is a critical root cause?

  1. Thanks Chris for making clear difference between Root Cause and Critical Root cause. I really like ” a root cause is an entity with arrows coming out but no arrow going in”
    But could you please help clarify why you say in next sentence “In this context a root cause is not necessarily something negative”. I am reading it as a general statement not an authoritative statement.

    Since an effect could be negative, any cause can be negative or positive as well. Correct? My understanding is that a cause may be an effect and an effect can be a cause in the causal chain. So If an effect is negative and it can subsequently create another effect (in Effect -> Cause -> Effect -> Cause….chain) using Cause Map analysis, the specific effect is now a changed to a cause which is negative.
    Am I misinterpreting your statement?


    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
      As I got my inspiration from Bill Dettmer’s book and quoted it, I may use his example to clarify how a root cause in not necessarily a bad thing: “Sun can be the root cause of skin cancer, yet the sun isn’t a bad thing (negative) per se. A root cause may be positive, neutral or negative, depending on perception. The example is page 104.

      Hope this helps.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.