Facilitating a Causal Loop Diagramming Workshop with Doom Loop Technique

In this blog, a short description of one workshop from Chapter 8 of the book: Creating Agile Organizations by Cesario Ramos & Ilia Pavlichenko.

A Causal-Loop Diagram (CLD) is a crucial tool in systems thinking. It is a visual representation that helps you see the structure of a system and the connections between its key elements. (If you are unfamiliar with CLDs, have a look at Ilia’s post before reading further at: https://agilix.nl/systems-thinking-in-organizational-coaching/ for a gentle introduction)


Example CLD

What can you learn from the above CLD?

Jay Forrester (a pioneering American computer engineer and systems scientist ) points out that we make decisions based on our individual knowledge limitations, personal assumptions and simplified mental models of reality. Creating a CLD together helps you to tap into the collective knowledge of the group, make assumptions explicit and allow you to share different perspectives. In short: it sets you up for productive conversations.

When working with CLDs, I’ve learned to focus on its key elements (no more than around 8), which include variables related to behavior, stocks, and conditions. Important to identify are reinforcing and balancing loops, time delays and quick fixes or non-fundamental solutions.

The Doom Loops technique is an easy way to start practising CLDs and get results right from the start.

The Doom Loops Technique

Here’s how the “Doom Loop Technique” works:

  • Step 1 : The Center of Chaos: Start by placing the key variable that’s at the heart of your problem right in the center of your diagram. This is the nucleus of your CLD universe!
  • Step 2: :The Usual Suspects: Now, come up with one to three variables that could be the major causes behind your problem. Pop them on the left side of the key variable and connect them with it. Think of it as a conspiracy board for your issue. And hey, if you want to go deeper style, throw in the “five whys” technique for some extra spice!
  • Step 3: The Ripple Effect: On the flip side, come up with one to three variables that are the unfortunate consequences of your problem. These go on the right side of the key variable, and yes, you guessed it – connect them with your central character.
  • Step 4: The Web of Cause And Effects: Now, seek out those juicy connections between the effects and causes to create Doom Loops.

If your diagram needs more depth, toss in some extra variables to fine-tune your masterpiece. You’re the artist, and this is your canvas!

So there you have it – the “Doom Loop Technique” to plunge into the world of CLDs. Remember, practice makes perfect, and soon you’ll be facilitating groups to and get great results.

Doom Loops in a Workshop Format

The Doom Loops technique works very well as part of a large workshop in for example an overall retrospective or a regular problem solving session with multiple parties.

The activity involves two main steps: 

First Step: Ask the team(s) to create a timeline of events related to product development during a specific timeframe analyzing patterns and identifying recurring events on that timeline.

The second Step: Is to uncover underlying structures and mental models behind the chosen events/patterns using the Doom Loop technique.

I recommend dividing the participants into separate groups of around 4 people. 

Here’s a summary of the key steps with time indication:

  • Create Events Timeline (30 min):  Participants are encouraged to recall both positive and negative events that have occurred in product development within a specific time frame, spanning from the project’s inception to the present day. These events should be documented in chronological order. To facilitate this, you can guide each individual to write down their significant events on Post-It notes, and then, one person at a time, add these notes to the timeline. Subsequently, each participant can contribute to the growing narrative by adding to the events already placed on the timeline

  • Shift and Share (liberating structure) (15 min):Invite the participants to discover recurring patterns on the timeline and engage in discussions centred around questions pertaining to these patterns. You can facilitate by asking fundamental questions such as:
    • What recurring events do you notice within this time frame?
    • What observations can you make from the timeline?
    • Are there any discernible patterns that stand out?
    • What insights can be gleaned from these patterns?

    Subsequently, consider dot voting to prioritize the recurring events that are most important to address.

  • Select recurring events to investigate: Invite the groups, to each choose one of the top-voted recurring events to investigate further.
  • (Optionally)Teach the Systems Iceberg Model (20 min): The facilitator educates participants about systems structures, mental models, and Causal-Loop Diagrams, emphasizing the importance of going beyond surface-level events.
  • Doom Loop Technique (60 min): Explain the Doom Loop technique. Ask the team to place their chosen recurrent problem in the centre of the Doom Loop. Then, invite the group to uncover underlying structures and mental models behind the chosen events/patterns using the Doom Loop technique. Consider the 1-2-4-ALL liberating structure to create the cause & effect variables. They create diagrams that include key variables, causes, effects, and connections between them. The goal is to gain a deeper understanding of the issues.
  • Define Actions for Improvement (30 min): Invite the teams to write down actions and insights derived from the analysis. After that, brainstorm on possible interventions and capture them on Post-Its. Again you can use the 1-2-4-ALL liberating structure.
  • Present Findings and Solutions (20 min): Each group presents their findings and proposed solutions to the larger group. Facilitate the group to pick up actions. Consider using the Who-What-When serious game.
  • Closing (5 min): The activity concludes with a brief closing session.

Overall, this activity aims to help teams reflect on past events, identify patterns, and explore the deeper systemic causes behind recurring issues in product development, ultimately leading to actionable insights for improvement.