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Are You Guilty of ‘Scraping the Surface’ When Solving Problems?

We hate to admit it, but many of us are good at just scraping the surface when solving problems. Some like to call this approach the ‘hide it in the closet technique.’ However, in today’s competitive business environment, problem scraping and closet filling isn’t going to get you or your team very far.

For those of you that are guilty of this, the Fishbone Diagram is a great method for delving a little deeper. This model facilitates a comprehensive problem-solving approach by encouraging consideration of all possible causes when designing a solution. This model also describes the relationships between different factors that cause a particular problem. Below we will take a look at the four steps required to effectively use the Fishbone Diagram as a problem-solving technique.

Step 1. Decide on a problem that you want to be solved

When deciding on the problem, it is important to be as specific as possible as more specific problem definitions will promote tailored solutions. It is also important to ensure that the problem isn’t defined in terms of a solution (e.g. we need more of something).  By defining the problem in terms of a solution, the chances of identifying other underlying causes and deriving creative solutions are reduced.

Step 2. Agree on the major categories of the problem

The major categories of the problem are the labels of the major branches on the diagram. It is important to tailor these categories to the structure and characteristics of your organisational environment so that the factors surrounding the problem can be appropriately analyzed. These categories will vary across organisations and teams; however, three of the most common Fishbone Diagram categorizations are:

  1. Surroundings, suppliers, skills and systems
  2. Price, people, place/plant, procedures, promotion, processors, product and policies
  3. Man, materials, machines, methods, environment and measurements

Step 3. Brainstorm all the possible causes of the problem under each category

To promote the success of this step, it is recommended that a group of people are involved as this will encourage a more diverse range of ideas. Every cause identified during this step should be added to one or more of the relevant categories in the diagram. During the cause identification phase, it is also common to identify further problems that have additional causes. When this occurs, they can be added as extra sub-branches on the Fishbone Diagram.

Step 4. Analyze the diagram

This step is the most significant part of the Fishbone Diagram exercise. This step is important for identifying causes that may require further investigation, causes that are repeated across the various categories as well as causes that may be easy to correct.

Overall, the Fishbone Diagram could be a powerful tool for you and your team when solving organisational problems. By encouraging the implementation of this tool, it could assist in fostering a culture that is dedicated to continuous improvement and critical problem-solving.


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