A cause-and-effect diagram is just a simple image where problems and possible causes to those problems are organized into an easy-to-understand tool. Cause and effect diagrams are useful to recognize how different factors that have caused a specific problem all relate to each other.
The most common type of cause-and-effect diagram is commonly referred to as a fishbone diagram. Here is more about how these useful visual tools work and how you can use one for any problem that needs solving.
First, Define the Overall Effect
This is essentially the main problem at hand. You need to identify and define the situation that you are trying to solve. This will form your first major line in the middle. When looking at a fishbone diagram, this will create the main skeleton on which the rest of the ribs and bones are developed.
The purpose of this effect line is to understand, in detail, what the exact problem is. The more complicated the effect, the larger the cause-and-effect diagram will be. For clarity on how this effect line looks in relation to other situations, look at these fishbone diagram examples. The more defined the effect, the easier it will be to categorize and detect the various possible causes.
List Every Possible Cause to the Main Effect
Whether you choose to organize a brainstorming session or you already know what the main causes are, write everything down. The more causes you can identify, the more detailed your diagram will be and the more information you can gather from it. Depending on the effect and causes, you may need many people to help identify the root of the problem.
An easy way to define the causes is to ask the questions what, why, when, and where? These are handy places to start and, as you work through the list, more causes will be identified. Now, out of all the possible scenarios and sources of the problem, choose about five major causes. These will go into your fishbone diagram to form the internal ribs. You may have more than five, but only identify the most pertinent causes that are contributing to the problem and list them from most impactful to the least.
Evaluate and Assess
The point of a cause-and-effect diagram is not to solve the problem for you. Rather, it provides a visual representation of the problem in its entirety. It becomes much easier to understand a problem and find an appropriate solution when you have all the facts laying right in front of your eyes. Our brains work better with images, sounds, and touch than they do by reading and listening.
A well-developed fishbone diagram is just a means to better understand a complex problem that needs to be resolved. The more causes that you can identify, the smoother the evaluation and assessment step will go.
A cause-and-effect diagram will never be 100% accurate or complete. The aim is to identify the causes that had the most effect on the problem and to find a creative solution to any situation.