Issue Tree


The purpose of an Issue Tree is to illustrate the logical relationships between different elements of a problem. It is a diagnostic tool to help identify a root cause. It is often used in management consulting to break down large, complicated problems into smaller and more manageable components that can be addressed independently. Issue Trees are also helpful in upstream marketing planning in order to focus and prioritize those sub-issues that are impacting performance most. When completing an Issue Tree, it is critical that you build it in such a way that the sub-issues that you identify are mutually exclusive, and collectively exhaustive (MECE).


What do we need to accomplish by when to be successful?


  1. Start by clearly identifying the single problem that you are diagnosing. What problem are you trying to solve? Capture this problem in the form of a clear and specific question, without any ambiguity.
  2. Create your first set of Issue branches by identifying the highest-level Sub-Issues. Like all branches and Sub-Issues that follow, ensure that there is no overlap and that you are covering the whole problem.
  3. Repeat Step 2 until you have reasonably exhausted all the Sub-Issues. Ensure that all Sub-Issues provide answers to the higher-level Issues to which they belong. You may end up having 4 or 5 levels of branches.
  4. Validate your Issue Tree to ensure that you have covered the scope of your problem and that there are no breaks in your logic. The Sub-Issues in your final branch should be as measurable and observable as possible.
  5. Finally, determine the type of analysis that can be performed to analyze each Sub-Issue. Prioritize Sub-Issues that appear to be the most important to solving your problem and can be analyzed with the least amount of effort.


  • Phrase your Issues and Sub-Issues in a way that can be proven and answered with a “yes” or “no”.
  • A similar framework can be used to explore financial impact (Profitability Tree) and customer insight (5 Whys).
  • Solution Trees can be built in a similar way, by starting with the outcome (‘how’) instead of the problem (‘why’).


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