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17 Nov

Sort out the problem!

Datum: 2010-11-17 10:06
A complete fishbone against a light blue background. At the ends of the bone, there are labels with a drawn fish head and a drawn fish tail, respectively.

I am sure it hap­pens to you, just as it does to every­one, that prob­lems show up in your work as well?

It might be:

  • that some­thing you thought would work, doesn’t.
  • that you don’t achieve the results you hoped you would from an activity.
  • that some­thing you are sup­posed to com­plete gets delayed every time.
  • that some­thing you do ends up going wrong, over and over again.

Since you are striv­ing towards work­ing in a struc­tured man­ner, you want to quick­ly find pos­si­ble solu­tions in an effi­cient way.

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:

This is when you should use Japan­ese Kaoru Ishikawa’s bril­liant Fish-bone dia­gram”, which is also referred to as the Ishikawa-dia­gram”. In com­bi­na­tion with Sakichi Toyoda’s the Five Whys”-method it is an excel­lent way to sim­ply sort out a prob­lem and its caus­es, so that you eas­i­er will find a solu­tion to it.

Do this

The meth­ods con­tain many nuances, but let’s make it as easy as pos­si­ble. If you’re a Six Sig­ma Black Belt, then this will be peanuts, but for you who are not pre­vi­ous­ly famil­iar with the fish-bone dia­gram”, this is some­thing you’ve just got to try out for yourself.

  1. At the far left end of an emp­ty sheet of paper, define and for­mu­late your prob­lem (or, try my Five whys” tem­plate). The more con­crete­ly, mea­sur­ably and specif­i­cal­ly you phrase and describe it, the eas­i­er it will be to solve. The prob­lem will be the head of the fish.
  2. Draw a straight line from the prob­lem and hor­i­zon­tal­ly across the sheet, towards the right end of the page. This line sym­bol­izes the spine of the fish.
  3. Now read the prob­lem out loud to your­self and ask Why?”. That is, you ask Why?” and answer your­self with because…”, and then write down all the rea­sons and caus­es you can think of in the shape of fish-bones emerg­ing from the spine. Also, make sure that the rea­sons are as con­crete, mea­sur­able and spe­cif­ic as possible.
  4. For each cause or rea­son you came to think of, again ask your­self But, why?” (sim­i­lar to a curi­ous, inde­fati­ga­ble 5‑year old…) and again answer Well, you see, because…” et c.
  5. You note these caus­es of caus­es” as fish-bones com­ing out of the orig­i­nal fish-bones (Alright, so no real fish actu­al­ly look like this, but blame Kaoru, he made it up).
  6. Repeat these Why?”-questions for anoth­er three rounds. At this point, you will prob­a­bly and hope­ful­ly have a hand­ful of rea­sons and caus­es of the prob­lem, a few caus­es of the caus­es and anoth­er few more caus­es of the caus­es of the caus­es of…
  7. After five Why?”-questions you will reach what, for now, can be regard­ed as the root of the evil.
  8. For now, set­tle with the ques­tions you have asked and instead try to find a solu­tion to at least two root causes:
    • the one which is eas­i­est to solve
    • the one which, pro­vid­ed with a solu­tion, ought to give the great­est effect

The solu­tion can be some­thing which elim­i­nates the root cause com­plete­ly, some­thing which speeds it up, some­thing which makes the process smoother, some­thing which makes it more stable. 

The solu­tion may be a tem­plate, a check­list, an automa­tion of a process, it can be that you del­e­gate to some­one else, that you out­source, et c.

When you have imple­ment­ed the solu­tion, you will notice that the good results prop­a­gate and spread back through the branch­es of caus­es, through the fish-bones, through the spine all the way to the head, that is, to the prob­lem you want­ed to solve.

Both large and small problems

You can use this method to solve prob­lems of all sizes.

  • Your per­son­al struc­ture: My com­put­er desk­top is filled with files and doc­u­ments – because I save files there – because I don’t know where else to put them – because I haven’t decid­ed where they should be – because I’m unsure of my options – because I missed that edi­tion of Done!
  • Your company’s most impor­tant issues: We aren’t reach­ing our prof­it­goals – because we haven’t land­ed busi­ness trans­ac­tions which are large enough – because we have been work­ing on clients which are too small – because that’s what we are used to and those are the clients we know and know how to work with – because we aren’t sure of how to approach the big fish…”

If you have a sim­ple, struc­tured method by which you can sort out” the prob­lem, then it’s much eas­i­er to get to it than if you are just sit­ting with the prob­lem in front of you think­ing Do something!”

How do you do it?

What’s your smartest way of solv­ing a prob­lem you are faced with? Tell me!

A template that makes this easier

A template sheet lies on a desk. On the sheet rests a freshly placed, black pencil. To the left, a green plant can be seen in the background.

I have created a template that allows you to dissect the problem without needing to draw up the metaphorical fishbone.

Show me the template