Data Strategies – Determine a Root Cause

Here a few strategies that we used at the data workshop to determine a root cause for a problem:

Fishbone Analysis – In the ‘fish head’ we wrote a problem that we discovered after digging through our school’s data.  (Problem Statement: Our students’ scores on the ELA MCAS are improving but are not improving on the Math MCAS). From here we identified the major categories that feed into this problem and wrote these into the “ribs” of the fish. (Curriculum, Teachers, Students, Leadership). Next we brainstormed the possible causes for each category. For example, under the Curriculum category – open response is challenging for our students, curriculum drastically changing with CCSS, statistics is on MCAS but is not in curriculum, etc. After we worked through all of this, we discussed which of these categories may be the root cause. This tool results in a powerful visual representation of problem and causes. I loved using this!


20 Reasons – This tool would be particularly useful when we have a lot ideas about possible causes of a problem that we need to get off our chest. Sometimes it’s hard to focus a conversation when there are several people involved, each coming in with lot of different ideas that they are passionate about. The idea here is to get all these ideas on paper before talking them out. All you need to do is write down the problem, then start a list. Participants can call out their ideas and every idea is listed. Once all the ideas are listed, each member identifies which of these they think is the root cause and indicated by a check mark.  From there the conversation is facilitated until a root cause is agreed upon.

Why, why, why – This tool is very similar to a conversation I recently had with my 4 year old niece. She asked a question, and I responded. Then she followed up with, “Why?” This continued for WAY too long. And this is exactly how this tool works. The problem is presented to the group, then they are asked, “why?”. The first ‘because’ is recorded, then “why?” Continue this process until there are no more reasons to give. Then circle back to original problem and ask why again. It is recommended to repeat this process 3 – 5 times, then facilitate a conversation about which ‘because’ is the root cause of the problem.


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