A causal factor is a condition or action that did (or can) affect an entity by causing, contributing, influencing, or permitting a change to that entity. In other words, it is a factor that is causal to a change.
Example: there is an unlit candle in a holder on the table. You strike a match, hold its flame to the wick of the candle, and do not withdraw the match until it appears that the candle's flame is self-sustaining. Suppose the change we are interested in is the condition of the wick, first unlit and then burning. There are several causal factors for that change. In broad terms, and without going into excessive detail, those causal factors are:
- oxygen rich environment
- a burning/flaming match
- match flame heats the wick
- match flame heats the wax
- wax melts when heated
- melting wax gives off flammable vapours
- match flame ignites the vapours
- ignited vapours produce high-temperature flame
- wick is combustible
- burning wick provides steady ignition point for vapours
- a self-sustaining chain reaction is possible
- match flame is held in place until self-sustaining chain reaction is established
Each of those 12 factors is causal to the lighting of the candle. If you change any one factor a little bit, you will likely affect the process of lighting the candle or the characteristics of the candle flame once it is established. If you change any single factor significantly, or change more than one factor at a time, the candle may not light at all or may self-extinguish quickly.
In Root Cause Analysis, causal factors are important not only because they can help to explain how and why a problem or event occurred (as in Causal Factor Tree Analysis), but also because they are a major class of leverage points at which corrective actions can be aimed.
See all uses of the phrase Causal Factor on this site.
by Bill Wilson