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Cause & Effect Diagrams help you to think through causes of a problem thoroughly. Their major benefit is that they push you to consider all possible causes of the problem, rather than just the ones that are most obvious.

The approach combines brainstorming with use of a type of Concept Map.

Cause & Effect Diagrams are also known as Fish Bone Diagrams. The box and line can be thought of as the head and spine of the fish.

How to use tool
Follow these steps to solve a problem with a Cause & Effect diagram:

• Identify the problem: Write down the exact problem you face in detail. Where appropriate identify who is involved, what the problem is, and when and where it occurs. Write the problem in a box on the left hand side of a large sheet of paper. Draw a line across the paper horizontally from the box. This gives you space to develop ideas.

• Work out the major factors involved: Next identify the factors that may contribute to the problem. Draw lines off the spine for each factor, and label it. These may be people involved with the problem, systems, equipment, materials, external forces, etc. Try to draw out as many possible factors as possible. If you are trying to solve the problem as part of a group, then this may be a good time for some brainstorming! Using the 'Fish bone' analogy, the factors you find can be though of as the bones of the fish.

• Identify possible causes: For each of the factors you considered in stage ii, brainstorm possible causes of the problem that may be related to the factor. Show these as smaller lines coming off the 'bones' of the fish. Where a cause is large or complex, then it may be best to break the it down into sub-causes. Show these as lines coming off each cause line.

• Analyse your diagram: By this stage you should have a diagram showing all the possible causes of your problem. 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, etc. These will be designed to test whether your assessments are correct.

Example:
The example below shows a Cause & Effect diagram drawn by a manager who is having trouble getting co-operation from a branch office:

If the manager had not thought the problem through, he might have dealt with the problem by assuming that people were being difficult. Instead he might think that the best approach is to arrange a meeting with the Branch Manager. This would allow him to brief the manger fully, and talk through any problems that he may be facing.

Key points:
Cause & Effect diagrams provide a structured way to help you think through all possible causes of a problem. This helps you to carry out a thorough analysis of a situation.

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