Fishy Affairs (Finding Complex Root Causes)

Fishbone Diagram

Fishbone Diagram

Even if complex problems need a more detailed analysis, we want to find a way of writing down the results easily. This is what fishbone diagrams are for.

The illustration above shows the structure of such diagrams, which are also called “cause and effect diagrams”.

This is the method to analyze problems with these diagrams:

  1. You start your analysis by putting your problem in the box on the right side. This is the negative effect you want to understand.
  2. Decide, which cause areas you need to analyze, you put them in the boxes at the start of the long arrows pointing to the spine of the fishbone. You can change them later. The illustration is an adaption of standard Lean fishbone categories to Lean Self. Below, you find a discussion of the areas shown on the “bones”.
  3. Now look for primary causes of the problem. You can start with a “5 Why” session, or you can do brainstorming. Put primary causes on horizontal arrows, pointing to the cause areas with the best fit.
  4. Either in step 3, you already have discovered secondary causes, or you repeat the same procedure for every primary cause to find secondary causes. Put those on arrows pointing to the arrow of the primary cause. Again, “5 Why” may help.
  5. You can even put in tertiary causes, but you should not make the diagram too complicated.

For drawing fishbone diagrams I suggest to start with a big sheet of paper. You can use a computer program for that, the Internet is your friend if you search one. You can also arrange this as a classical mind map; the differences are not that big.

The cause areas given in the illustration are meant as follows:

  • Tools: Put in causes that are related to the tools you use. This can be your paper to-do list, your computer, your washing machine, and so on. Missing tools can be mentioned here.
  • Process: Causes related to your personal processes. Everything that has got to do with actions and how you do and organizing that belongs in this area. Furthermore, everything you do not do actively but could or should.
  • People: Causes related to people in your direct surroundings. Family, colleagues, neighbors. This is also about relationships, be they fine or not.
  • Resources: Causes related to resources or input you need. For example, things which are not plentiful or as good as expected.
  • Environment: External influences that are a cause for problems. Alternatively, interactions with your environment. For example, the company you work at, or the place you live.
  • Organization: Everything that is related to how you organize yourself. This is not the same as process, although there is a similarity. The difference is the following: Process is what you do and organization is how you chose and plan what to do.

Which complex (or complicated) problem will you apply this tool to?

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