This week’s column is my fifth and final column on root cause analysis tools for managers. In previous weeks I explained root cause analysis in general and three other great analysis tools; The Five Whys, Root Cause Mapping, and Brainstorming. This week, as promised, I’ll be explaining fishbone diagrams.

This week’s column is my fifth and final column on root cause analysis tools for managers. In previous weeks I explained root cause analysis in general and three other great analysis tools; The Five Whys, Root Cause Mapping, and Brainstorming. This week, as promised, I’ll be explaining fishbone diagrams.


As you can see in Figure 1, fishbone diagrams are called fishbone diagrams because, well, they look like fishbones. Its official name, however, is an Ishikawa diagram, named after its creator, Kaoru Ishikawa. Other names for this well-known technique are cause and effect diagrams and the slang name Fishikawa diagrams.


Fishbone diagrams are created using the following steps:


1. As shown in Figure 1 (and similar to the cause mapping tool earlier in this root cause analysis series), the problem statement is placed in a box on the far right.


2. Draw a straight line from the center of the problem statement box to the left side of the paper.


3. Brainstorm (see last week’s column) with your group to theorize the main factors that could potentially be causing the problem, place these factors in boxes above and below the solid line, as shown in figure 1. The typical default factors/categories are: People, Methods, Machines, Materials, Measurements and Environment. That said, feel free to use whatever categories make sense given your stated problem.


4. Next, for each category ask yourself the question “Why is this category a problem?” For example, “Why are People a problem as it related to why my laptop is out of power?”


5. Next, connect answers to these questions to categories on the main line. For example, the answer to the question asked in No. 4 is “Poor training.” As you see in the diagram, the words “Poor training” is connected to the “People” line.


6. Next, ask yourself a follow-up question to the answer in No. 5, such as, “Why is there poor training?” (Similar to The Five Whys discussed earlier in this root cause analysis series.) Following our example, this question had two answers: “People don’t care” and “No training budget.” Note that these answers are connected to the “Poor training” line.


7. Continue steps 4 through 6 until you have reached the root cause of each item.


Lastly, like the Cause Mapping, discussed in a previous column, fishbone diagrams are not only a great way to help define the root cause of a problem, they are also a great way to explain and illustrate the root cause to others. Once again, imagine you are making a presentation to senior management. You could start your presentation by just displaying the box containing the problem statement on the far right. Then, one-by-one, display the category boxes and the lines within each box. 


Then, to help get buy-in for your proposed solution to the problem, you can have six follow-up slides, one for each category explaining how you will correct the issues described within each category.


In closing on this five-column series on root cause analysis, I would like to leave you with one parting thought. As managers, one of our key responsibilities is to:


- Identify problems within the groups we manage.


- Define the root causes of these problems.


- And then take the appropriate corrective action.


This series was designed to give you the tools to help you find the root causes of these issues. Mastering the use of the tools discussed in this series, and tools like them, can help maximize your success as a manager. It’s easy to manage a group when everything is going well. A manager really earns his/her pay when problems arise and it’s your job to fix them.


The primary advice and takeaways from today’s column is to know that:


- Fishbone diagrams are a great technique to discover the root cause of an issue and then describe your analysis to others.


- Mastering the use of the tools discussed in this five column series, and tools like them, can help maximize your success as a manager. 


Until next time, manage well, manage smart and continue to grow.


Eric P. Bloom is the president of Manager Mechanics LLC, a company specializing in information technology leadership development and the governing organization for the Information Technology Management and Leadership Professional (ITMLP) and Information Technology Management and Leadership Executive (ITMLE) certifications. Contact him at eric@ManagerMechanics.com, follow him on Twitter at @EricPBloom, or visit www.ManagerMechanics.com.