Systems thinking is the underlying discipline behind everything we create, manage, improve, or attempt to improve. Whether you are finding solutions, solving problems, resolving conflicts, or managing constraint, at the center of each is the process of determining the cause-and-effect relationships between the dependent, interconnected parts of an entire system. Often, we focus on pieces of the system- all of the parts, some of the parts, only the independent parts rather than recognizing the need and importance of exposing cause-and-effect within the whole system.  

For example, management teams will often treat a symptom of the problem without addressing its root cause. Or teams misinterpret the effects of the problem as the problem itself; or accept cause-and-effect relationships at face value based on their own predetermined assumptions. All of these examples are a failure to question and look for other possible explanations. 

These eight questions, set by the Theory of Constraints (TOC), question the system and its relationships through a rigorous drill-down process. Ask yourself “Really?” 

1. For Clarity 
Ask: Do I really understand the problem?
2. To Establish Entity Existence 
Ask: Does this situation really exist?
3. To Establish Causality Existence
Ask: Does the relationship between cause and effect really exist? 
4. To Check For Cause Insufficiency 
Ask: Can the stated cause really result in the stated effect, completely on its own? Does it require anything else?
5. To Find An Additional Cause 
Ask: Is there really anything else that could have caused this to occur, completely on its own? 
6. To Check For Cause-Effect Reversal 
Ask: Is the stated cause really the source of the effect, or is it the other way around?
7. To Substantiate Cause-and-Effect Statement 
Ask: Is there really any other unavoidable outcome that supports the predicted effect?
8. To Find Tautology, or circular logic  
Ask: Is the effect offered as rationale for the cause?

Although this system may seem involved, by properly identifying the solution, solving the real problem, focusing on what is best to improve, and resolving conflicting ideas, your team will see enormous return for the work and thinking. 

Groves, Fletcher. Relentless Systems Thinking. January 18, 2016. Retrieved from