Getting from Multiple Causes to Focused Action

Here is a model we have used for performance improvement efforts that works well as a group activity, leads to actionable, quick decisions, and is scalable to the resources you have available to build solutions. It starts by a detailed performance or process analysis. You need to identify outputs or deliverables, key criteria or measures, and typical gaps. Same for process steps and tasks.

Then, go through that data and put each gap and cause on a card. (We use an Access database but you can do it manually – it isn’t really difficult.) Then, convene a group of top performers and other relevant experts and look at each gap and cause. Determine if they are worth addressing (maybe rate them by impact and frequency). The goal is to come up with a recommendation to correct or eliminate the cause. Then estimate a rough level of effort and impact using a simple H-M-L scale.

Once you address all the gap/causes, go back and organize the cards. First, group the recommendations. We have noticed that quite often a single recommendation will address more than one gap or cause. So you might have a pile of gap/cause cards for the same recommendation. Below is an example that illustrates the cards with an assessment of each gap and cause (impact and frequency) and then relating them to a single recommendation, which is assessed by impact and level of effort.

Once you have organized the recommendations, separate them into four groups.


At this point you have a decision, based on the number of recommendations and your available resources. You might pick the “Top 10” or just the first priority. We have used a scale and recommended three or four per each of the following categories.

  • “Low-hanging Fruit” or “Quick Hits”: Require little resource time or funds to implement. Some examples might be to add someone to an email distribution list or post a chart on the wall showing metrics we are already collecting.
  • Longer-term Projects: Might require some time/effort, some additional study or analysis, and maybe some funding but can be accomplished within our scope or sphere of influence. An example might be to re-organize a work area to change the way work flows through an area. Or, changing how files are organized on our server.
  • Ideas or Large Issues: Will require significant investment and longer cycle time to research and implement. Will require involvement of other organizations or upper-level leadership.  Examples might be purchasing expensive capital equipment or changing organizational roles or job categories.

To wrap this up, you need clear decisions and direction on how to proceed. Ideally, you have a steering team set up to review the recommendations and make the call on next steps. We suggest a one-page summary of each recommendation to make the decision clear for the leadership.  (Remember, they weren’t in on all the team discussion so you have to start at the beginning. Give them the following using clear, concise, and direct wording.

  • Situation: Describe the work, the gap(s), cause(s), and impact. Answer the questions “What happens (that we don’t want to happen) and why should we care”?
  • Opportunity: How the work would look if the problem(s) were solved.
  • Recommendation: Specific steps you plan to take to address the above. It may be the final fix, but it might also be additional research to verify the problem/causes.
  • Costs and Other Considerations: If you need funding, expertise, peoples’ time, use of an area, or anything else to move forward, explain it here.
  • Benefits: Financial and other (such as reduced cycle time, customer satisfaction, reduced waste, etc.)

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