As a leader you endeavor to catch any deteriorating systems or processes as early as possible. However, because of tight operating budgets and limited resources, “Special Causes” deemed to be “Outliers” are sometimes dismissed rather than resourced.

If a Special Cause is an extremely rare event, the leader may choose to think in terms of probability of it ever happening again. Or, to balance the costs of living with the fallout when it does happen as part of the risk management equation. But not all Special Causes should be merely rolled into a risk management equation. Some Special Causes conceal FUTURE root cause problems.

In particular, a Special Cause that may appear as a low-risk outlier and that the leader may be tempted to dismiss out of hand just may be what I will call a Camouflaged Special Cause: the Special Cause that may appear as an outlier, today, but upon much closer inspection will reveal tip of the iceberg for tomorrow’s major root cause problems.

That innocent-looking outlier may be a villainous Camouflage for the earliest manifestation of a potential, future,  ongoing and growing “root cause” problem. At its greatest distance from the regression line, so to say, as a distant outlier, there may be a tendency to dismiss it early in the process during root cause investigation. Such dismissal may be unwise, if further investigation can be done with minimal disruption to resources since it may reveal looming issues. It is impossible to know the potential long-term consequences of such outliers without some amount of resources being applied.

Foreseeability and optimization requires some amount of resource to analyzing all special causes, even outliers, since they may be camouflaging significant future recurring problems.

Leaders are always optimizing scarce resources. So, it is understandable that it may be objectionable to redirect resources to investigating what appears to be inconsequential outliers. However, one or some of those outliers may present distant early warning signals that if tended to early enough can be a positive future impact to profitability.  This is in keeping with the adage that leaders ought to catch problems at their earliest, lowest-cost state, and therefore prevent future, resource-consuming problems.

One danger of investing resources to extinguishing outliers is the powerful negative forces that come from protecting decisions or projects based in Managerial Ego. Be particularly alert to investing too much resource, thus, wasting resource, when a special cause arises within a project or opportunity that is also influenced by “Managerial Ego”.  I’ve written about the dangers of Managerial Ego in a previous Nugget. [Click here to read more: ]

Guard against overly investing resources to investigate outliers and special causes when arising within programs and products being protected by Managerial Ego.