No, I’m not being heretical. I do follow structured problem solving methods and use a single, tightly defined effect to describe the problem at the head of a Fishbone diagram.

But sometimes …….. just sometimes, bend the rules a little. 

Use the structure of your Cause and Effect (or Ishikawa) Diagram to help with a different kind of problem. A big, unstructured problem – not at all tightly defined!

This way of using a Fishbone was shown to me by Hiroshi Seino, one of my Nissan Master Engineers. He called it a Chaos Fishbone.

Instead of using the diagram to explore all the potential causes that result in a single effect, use it to organise your team’s response to a larger, more open question.

How does this work?

So for example let’s ask the question “How can we encourage people to submit more ideas for improvement?”

This is still an issue that exists in the workplace, but it’s not in the form of a tightly defined, single effect. (The latter would be like “What stops the two screw holes on the Model X handle lining up?)

Follow these steps with your team:

  • Write your question or issue in the box where the effect goes.
  • Get your team to brainstorm ideas (causes) and write each on a sticky note.
  • Place the notes on the appropriate bone of the diagram (man, material, machine, method and environment).
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  • Place identical ideas on top of each other.
  • If there are any bones that have no or very few ideas then prompt the team to fill the gaps.

Although these steps are pretty much the same as you would use in normal cause and effect analysis, you will now get a lot more variance in the ideas generated. This is because you weren’t too specific about the issue you were investigating.

Not being specific in normal problem solving mode is usually a disaster. It results in more possible causes making the next step harder.

However in a Chaos Fishbone it’s the reverse.

  • The open question encourages a huge and varied number of causes.
  • Using the Fishbone structure organises and groups the huge volume and variety of ideas making the next step easier.

The next step

In normal problem solving the team select the most likely basic causes to investigate further. The countermeasure for each root cause is put in place and the result monitored.

If there are a lot of basic causes to select from and investigate, the process of analysing the root cause becomes cumbersome and time consuming.

On the Chaos Fishbone the next step is to spend some time grouping similar ideas together. This rationalises the mass of notes and develops themes. The team then select the top theme(s) they wish to work on.

As each theme contains a number of ideas, or causes, they can develop a good solution or approach to try out. And again the team implement it and monitor their results.

Try it out

So let me know if you have used a Chaos Fishbone and how it went. Or maybe you will give it a go at the next opportunity.

Begin with something realistic though – the solution to world peace may be a little too challenging to start with.