Root Cause Analysis: Cause & Effect in problem solving

The key to effective problem solving is root cause analysis, or separating the symptoms from the cause, to identify what’s really causing the problem. You can then apply, validate and embed your countermeasures in the knowledge that it will eliminate the problem.

In order to achieve this successfully you need to think about potential causes and reasons leading to an effect or a problem, which can be analysed (eliminate or incriminate) to determine actual causes, including the root cause.

The cause & Effect (more commonly called Isikawa or Fishbone) diagram was developed and first used during the 1960’s by Kaoru Ishikawa in the Kawasaki shipyards and is considered as one of the 7 Quality Control Tools

The aim of the process is
•  Find the root cause (and other contributing factors)
•  Provide clarity and visualisation of the route taken
•  Identify links and interdependencies between causes and contributing factors


How to create your Cause & Effect diagram

Create the central ‘spine’ with the Effect or problem being the ‘head’

Add the main categories (in this case Man, Machine, Material & Method) as the main ‘bones’


Now start to add the potential causes as ‘bones’ branching off the relevant category main ‘bone’





Your Cause & Effect diagram is exactly that ‘yours’ so it’s as flexible as you need it to be. The categories are not fixed or limited, it’s the thinking way that’s important.
If you’re in a manufacturing industry then the 4 categories of Man, Machine, Material and Method are the right starting point; you could consider adding Environment or Management for example.
If you’re in a service industry you could select categories to suit
Product, Price, Place, Promotion, People, Process or
Surroundings, Suppliers, Systems, Skills… etc

You now have a solid starting point for your investigation, you have collected, organised and visualised a quantity of reliable leads, potential causes which now need to be investigated so they can either be eliminated or proven.


Now use 5Why analysis to determine the root causes of the causes and contributing factors you’ve identified.

The advantages of Cause & Effect diagram;
Simple – It’s easy to use.
Effective – It uses different views to gather multiple potential causes to investigate
Comprehensive – It determines links and interdependencies between causes.
Flexible – It’s created with content specific to you are your business
Engaging – By its nature it fosters and produces teamwork.
Inexpensive – It’s a team focused exercise so there are no additional costs.

How to ensure that your Cause & Effect works;
1. Use a cross functional team.
 Differing viewpoints add strength
2. Develop a simple process to follow, and stick to it (including a simple Cause & Effect diagram template)
3. Avoid assumptions
 Your Cause & Effect diagram is only as robust as the information it’s based on, so don’t assume anything, check everything.
4. Visualise the information and data you use
 (7 Quality Control Tools)
5. Validate the contents
Is there any proof? – something you can measure or observe
Is there any history? – evidence that this potential cause can produce this problem
Are there any other potential causes or contributing factors to consider?
6. It’s the content that counts, not how pretty it looks, so don’t get hung up on making it look nice (hand drawn is best) as long as it’s clear and legible.
Don’t agonise over which category to put a potential cause in, just make sure you include and consider everything, so you end up with a robust result.

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