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ChangeWise Quick Read: The Ishikawa Diagram

In this quick read, we offer a high-level overview of the Ishikawa Diagram, including where it comes from, its key principles, why it’s effective in identifying the possible causes of an effect or problem, along with how to create one.

What is an Ishikawa Diagram?

An Ishikawa diagram, often referred to as a Fishbone diagram (due to the shape), is a visual tool used to assess issues and problems. It focuses on cause and effect in order to get to the root cause of a problem.

Photo by Karla Hernandez on Unsplash

Where did the Ishikawa diagram originate?

The Ishikawa was developed by Japanese theorist and professor of engineering, Kaoru Ishikawa in the 1960s. Ishikawa is considered an important figure in the development of quality initiatives.

Key Benefits

⭐️        Provides a strong visual representation of problems/defects

⭐️        Acts as a collaborative way to assess issues

⭐️        Identifies the root causes of issues

⭐️        Locates potential bottlenecks in the process

Sounds good, how do I get started?

Creating an Ishikawa diagram involves 4 simple steps:

Step 1: Draw a skeleton outline of a fishbone diagram and collectively agree the problem statement (the effect) and display it at the mouth of the fish.

⚠️        Top Tip: If possible, find a room with a wall large enough to display an A1 flip chart

Step 2: Agree all the potential categories impacting the problem and write them at the end of each ‘spine’.

⚠️        Top Tip: If you are struggling to define categories, use the general headings in the diagram above.

Step 3: Using the 5 Whys Technique (see below), the facilitator continues to ask ‘why does this happen’ until a root cause is identified.

Step 4: Once you have identified possible root causes for the first ‘spine’, begin to work through the other categories until you have completed the diagram.

You are now ready to start working through the root causes and agree potential solutions!

Let’s use an example of a customer complaint at a marketing agency to help us:

Problem/Issue Statement:

The customer is unhappy because we (the agency) post special offers too late.

This statement would appear at the mouth of the fish, with various areas identified for discussion:

Possible causes are then listed, asking the team ‘why’ until a potential root cause is identified for each. For example, using our marketing agency problem statement (the customer is unhappy because we (the agency) post special offers too late).

Why do the posting team post late?

Approval of copy takes too long to get back to the posting team

Why are the copy team approving/checking work?

Approval/checking is required because the posting team make mistakes

Why are the posting team making mistakes?

The posting team do not know the client well enough

Why do the posting team have limited knowledge of the client?

The posting team are made up of temporary staff who do not have time to get to know the client.

In this example, the root cause is constant staff changeover.

In Summary

The Ishikawa diagram was developed by Japanese theorist and professor of engineering, Kaoru Ishikawa in the 1960s. It is often referred to as a Fishbone diagram and acts as a simple, effective, visual tool for assessing issues, problems and defects. It focuses on cause and effect in order to get to the root cause of a problem.

Interested in finding out more? Get in touch with the ChangeWise team at info@changewise.co.uk

ChangeWise believes employee engagement is the foundation for successful Change. Training and coaching your people to use simple continuous improvement techniques will enable your organisation to continuously adapt and stay ahead in a constantly changing and challenging environment.

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