How to Facilitate Key Performance Indicators (KPI) Using an Ishakawa Diagram (ie, Fishbone Analysis)

Jack Welsh, CEO Emeritus for the General Electric Company, instilled his organization with an understanding that “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” With enough effort, almost every “fuzzy factor” can be converted to SMART criteria (ie, Specific, Measurable, Adjustable, Relevant, and Time-Based). Prioritized criteria form the foundation for major initiatives around Balanced Scorecard, dashboard techniques, portfolio decisions, and other essential corporate processes such as idea management.

Key Performance Indicators (KPI) can be identified during meetings by using root-cause analysis. Also referred to as Ishikawa or “fishbone” diagrams, the method generates a visual mind map listing possible causes. Named after Professor Kaoru Ishakawa at the University of Tokyo, he developed the process in 1945 to resolve steel production problems. Fishbone diagrams can be used to support analysis, identify gaps, provide insight about possible SMART criteria, and make assignments for follow-up activities and proactive change designs.

Here are the workshop steps to build a simple cause and effect diagram:

  1. In advance, prepare the following drawing (devoid of content) using either multiple sheets of paper, or some professional drawing tool.

Illustrative Fishbone Diagram

  1. Use the objectives of the project to identify the “primary effect” or end result that needs to be changed. Decide on a trigger or a one-word label that captures the meaning of the full definition. In the example above, the term “CHANGE” captures the effect being analyzed. Based on importance and time constraints you will want to manage the total number of “causes”, typically between eight and twelve total. As a practical activity, you may also focus on fewer, even one or two primary effects, or four as illustrated.
  2. Options to explore potential root causes are now considered within each causal area. You may launch a brainstorming activity of all possible causes, and then assign codes to help the team categorize them. Most approaches to cause and effect diagrams begin with four likely categories of causes. Although you can experiment with the labels (and in practice you will notice similar, albeit different labels being used by others), four categories frequently used for potential causes include:
  • Tools: Traditionally seen as the technology or equipment that leads to error, but could also reflect tangible resources that provide possible causes
  • Method: Isolates the activities or tasks that might be the source of concern or the opportunity for improvement
  • People: Intends to capture the group relationships and quality of decisions made
  • Data: Traditionally seen as the information required to support the cause

You might also use breakout teams and assign one or more causal categories. Ideally, determine in a large group setting the most important category of causes and develop as a large group. Then consider assigning the less important categories to sub-teams or work offline for additional development.

  • During a break, lunch, or evening illustrate your diagram and provide your workshop participants with full narrative definitions for each of the labels you will use in your fishbone diagram.
  • Depending on time constraints, lead your analysis activity either by beginning with the most important causes, taking all of the causes within a category, or perhaps grab the easiest to manage, the “low-hanging” fruit. Determine clear and simple questions in advance to lead the analysis and know what you intend to do with the analysis — what type of documentation is required to satisfy the deliverables. For example, if you are leading up to a RASI (ie, roles and responsibilities) chart, then articulate the next steps or activities that need to be assigned.

One of the benefits to building a fishbone diagram includes the consensus that gets built around the assumptions. Once your participants understand the question, agree on the cause and effect behind the potential answers, you will find it is much easier to build consensus around the priorities and next steps required to either remediate a problem or design for change.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiative, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.


About Facilitation Instructor
President of Morgan Madison & Company, through professional and academic endeavors, Terrence has focused on improving group decision-making quality. His experience has proven that: 1. Evidence-based information assures higher quality decisions. 2. Properly managed conflict, provides groups with more “options” to consider —
 and groups with more options have been proven to make higher quality decisions. With a Baccalaureate in Science from Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and a MBA from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, Metz’s core competency has focused on rhetoric: the process of adjusting ideas to people and people to ideas. He is a founding principal partner and president at MG RUSH and a certified Six Sigma Green Belt® from Motorola University. CRC Press, part of Taylor and Francis, publishers since 1798, published his recent book, “Change or Die: Business Process Improvement Manual”. Terrence introduced the concept of holism to the field of structured facilitation as a method for keeping discussions on target and aligning deliverables within and throughout an enterprise. As a public speaker and instructor, he strives to reduce ‘noise’ and ‘distractions’ so that groups and teams can be more successful. Terrence is passionate about using and teaching the FAST Facilitation technique so that people and teams make more informed decisions. He made the FAST technique more robust by adding and enhancing decision-making tools such as PowerBalls and the FAST quantitative SWOT technique that is used worldwide by Fortune 1000 companies. Since 1999, Terrence has taught over three hundred classes.

3 Responses to How to Facilitate Key Performance Indicators (KPI) Using an Ishakawa Diagram (ie, Fishbone Analysis)

  1. Pingback: Daily Leadership Thought #159 – Business Management Improvement Ideas « Ed Robinson's Blog

  2. Pingback: 7 steps to 3P heaven

  3. Pingback: Decision-Making: Stay Focused on Strategic, Operational, OR Tactical Issues | Facilitative Leadership & Facilitator Training

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