Cause and Effect Analysis

Identifying the Likely Causes of Problems

(Also known as Cause and Effect Diagrams, Fishbone Diagrams, Ishikawa Diagrams, Herringbone Diagrams, and Fishikawa Diagrams.)

Learn how to use Cause and Effect Analysis
to solve problems, in this short video.

When you have a serious problem, it's important to explore all of the things that could cause it, before you start to think about a solution.

That way you can solve the problem completely, first time round, rather than just addressing part of it and having the problem run on and on.

Cause and Effect Analysis gives you a useful way of doing this. This diagram-based technique, which combines Brainstorming   with a type of Mind Map  , pushes you to consider all possible causes of a problem, rather than just the ones that are most obvious.

About the Tool

Cause and Effect Analysis was devised by professor Kaoru Ishikawa, a pioneer of quality management, in the 1960s. The technique was then published in his 1990 book, "Introduction to Quality Control."

The diagrams that you create with are known as Ishikawa Diagrams or Fishbone Diagrams (because a completed diagram can look like the skeleton of a fish).

Cause and Effect Analysis was originally developed as a quality control tool, but you can use the technique just as well in other ways. For instance, you can use it to:

  • Discover the root cause of a problem.
  • Uncover bottlenecks   in your processes.
  • Identify where and why a process isn't working.

 

How to Use the Tool

Follow these steps to solve a problem with Cause and Effect Analysis:

Step 1: Identify the Problem

First, write down the exact problem you face. Where appropriate , identify who is involved, what the problem is, and when and where it occurs.

Then, write the problem in a box on the left-hand side of a large sheet of paper, and draw a line across the paper horizontally from the box. This arrangement, looking like the head and spine of a fish, gives you space to develop ideas.

Example:

In this simple example, a manager is having problems with an uncooperative branch office.

Figure 1 – Cause and Effect Analysis Example Step 1

(Click image to view full size.)

Example Cause and Effect Diagram: Step 1

Tip 1:

Some people prefer to write the problem on the right-hand side of the piece of paper, and develop ideas in the space to the left. Use whichever approach you feel most comfortable with.

Tip 2:

It's important to define your problem correctly. CATWOE   can help you do this – this asks you to look at the problem from the perspective of Customers, Actors in the process, the Transformation process, the overall World view, the process Owner, and Environmental constraints.

By considering all of these, you can develop a comprehensive understanding of the problem.

Step 2: Work Out the Major Factors Involved

Next, identify the factors that may be part of the problem. These may be systems, equipment, materials, external forces, people involved with the problem, and so on.

Try to draw out as many of these as possible. As a starting point, you can use models such as the McKinsey 7S Framework   (which offers you Strategy, Structure, Systems, Shared values, Skills, Style and Staff as factors that you can consider) or the 4Ps of Marketing   (which offers Product, Place, Price, and Promotion as possible factors).

Brainstorm   any other factors that may affect the situation.

Then draw a line off the "spine" of the diagram for each factor, and label each line.

Example:

The manager identifies the following factors, and adds these to his diagram:

  • Site.
  • Task.
  • People.
  • Equipment.
  • Control.

Figure 2 – Cause and Effect Analysis Example Step 2

(Click image to view full size.)

Example Cause and Effect Diagram: Step 2

Step 3: Identify Possible Causes

Now, for each of the factors you considered in step 2, brainstorm possible causes of the problem that may be related to the factor.

Show these possible causes as shorter lines coming off the "bones" of the diagram. Where a cause is large or complex, then it may be best to break it down into sub-causes. Show these as lines coming off each cause line.

Example:

For each of the factors he identified in step 2, the manager brainstorms possible causes of the problem, and adds these to his diagram, as shown in figure 3.

Figure 3 – Cause and Effect Analysis Example Step 3

(Click image to view full size.)

Example Cause and Effect Diagram

Step 4: Analyze Your Diagram

By this stage you should have a diagram showing all of the possible causes of the problem that you can think of.

Depending on the complexity and importance of the problem, you can now investigate the most likely causes further. This may involve setting up investigations, carrying out surveys, and so on. These will be designed to test which of these possible causes is actually contributing to the problem.

Example:

The manager has now finished his analysis. If he hadn't looked at the problem this way, he might have dealt with it by assuming that people in the branch office were "being difficult."

Instead he thinks that the best approach is to arrange a meeting with the Branch Manager. This would allow him to brief the manager fully on the new strategy, and talk through any problems that she may be experiencing.

Tip:

A useful way to use Cause and Effect Analysis with a team is to write all of the possible causes of the problem down on sticky notes. You can then group similar ones together on the diagram.

This approach is sometimes called CEDAC (Cause and Effect Diagram with Additional Cards) and was developed by Dr. Ryuji Fukuda, a Japanese expert on continuous improvement.

Key Points

Professor Kaoru Ishikawa created Cause and Effect Analysis in the 1960s. The technique uses a diagram-based approach for thinking through all of the possible causes of a problem. This helps you to carry out a thorough analysis of the situation.

There are four steps to using the tool.

  1. Identify the problem.
  2. Work out the major factors involved.
  3. Identify possible causes.
  4. Analyze your diagram.

You'll find this method is particularly useful when you're trying to solve complicated problems.

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Comments (4)
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi anjolaoluwa,
    Glad to hear that you found the article very educative. Have you been able to use it yet and what have your experiences been like?

    Midgie
  • anjolaoluwa wrote Over a month ago
    Very educative
  • James wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Everyone

    We’ve given this popular article a review, and the updated version is now at:
    http://www.mindtools.com/community/pages/article/newTMC_03.php

    Discuss the article by replying to this post!

    Thanks

    James
  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    I loved this article because it is all too easy to get caught up in a maelstrom of thoughts about the problem, without doing any constructive thinking about the causes and solutions. Apart from being a great tool to use in a work setup, the fishbone analysis can also help us in our personal lives to get clarity about the causes of certain problems and how to avoid that in future.

    Kind regards
    Yolandé

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