Developing a Useful Hypothesis:

Apr 1, 2015 4:48:00 PM

The Acid Test for Finding Effective Root Causes

If you cannot develop a useful hypothesis for a specific problem situation, you do not have a worthwhile cause to be considered. A hypothesis in itself is a test of your ability to link a cause to that of the incident/fault experienced.

Your hypothesis must be able to explain how the particular fault could have occurred. In other words, you need to phrase it as a causal statement. This is easier said than done and to do this properly, you need to follow the following guidelines.

Your hypothesis:

  • Needs to be stated as specifically as possible
  • Must identify the change that broke the camel’s back and caused the fault to occur
  • Must explain the unique aspect of the fault experienced 
  • Must be a logical statement


Let’s take the example of your staff not being able to get access to a certain website during lunch hour. If your possible cause is too vague or generic such as “Volume Issue” it could be interpreted in too many ways, which would make the testing of this logic fairly difficult. The problem starts with every person in the room having a different understanding of how the “volume issue” could have caused the problem. If you follow the guidelines above you need to get your problem solvers to be much more specific and also explain why we cannot log-on to the website during lunch hour. 

I would ask, “What aspect about ‘volume’ are you thinking of?” How would this volume issue be able to explain that it only happens during the lunch-hour, because this is normally the time when most staff are out of the office?

However, if they tell you that it is because of this situation during lunch hour that Networks decided to do the database back-ups on a daily basis and due to the increase in traffic or volume being experienced. Now the issue starts to make more sense and would also explain why it is happening during lunch hour. Everyone would be able to grasp this explanation, because it is stating exactly the WHAT and WHY of the causal statement.

In fact, a statement such as, “Increased network traffic during lunch hour as a result of Networks doing database back-ups is causing high levels of volume which makes it difficult for normal users to log-on during the lunch hour,” represents a CHANGE that gives us a perfect causal statement and hypothesis of what could be happening and why we have the fault as described. Many pet theories would be eliminated if you insist on having a well-constructed hypothesis developed to the above guidelines.

This was the final blog in a 9 blog series. Download the whole series in our free Ebook Quality Information Generation...

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Mat-thys Fourie

Written by Mat-thys Fourie

Washington, DC, United States | Founder & Chairman of Thinking Dimensions Global
Mr. Fourie is a thought leader on how IT professionals apply Incident Investigation techniques on a repeatable and sustainable basis within their organizations. His strength lies in customizing and embedding the various techniques within existing CSI, Incident and Problem Management practices.


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