Cause and effect diagrams: Guide to identifying root cause analysis

Cause and effect diagrams

What is a cause and effect diagram?

A cause and effect diagram (also known as Ishikawa, fishbone, or tree diagram) presents the causes of the root problem. It is a logical way to visualize how the effect came about.

A cause and effect diagram can range from a few simple elements to a complex visualization with extensive, complex branching, depending on how complicated your project or product is.

It is most commonly used in business when designing a product or planning a specific business idea, with the intention of easily being able to weigh up pros and cons.

Are you trying to solve a complicated problem? Sign up for MindManager for free to use a cause and effect diagram to help think through all the possible causes of the problem.

Example of a cause and effect diagram

Let’s walk through a real-life example using our MindManager fishbone diagram template.

fishbone diagram template

Meet Peter. Peter owns a coffee shop in downtown Seattle.

Compared to the last few years, this year's revenue for Peter’s coffee shop has significantly dropped.

To help Peter understand the cause of revenue decline, he uses a fishbone diagram.

First, Peter defines the problem. The problem is revenue has decreased.

Next, Peter lists components of the problem or potential causes as branches. Think of each of these bullet points as a branch:

  • Lack of new products
    • There are only five flavors
    • Food offerings aren’t good enough
  • Outdated style
    • The coffee shop was refurbished 15 years ago
      • The rent is too high
    • Our target audience is unclear
  • Low profit margins
    • We have no increased prices in 15 years
    • We didn’t look for new suppliers
    • Costs for raw materials are rising
  • Service is not good enough
    • We need more staff
    • There’s no training program for employees

Is a cause and effect diagram the same as a fishbone diagram?

A fishbone diagram is another name for a cause and effect diagram. It is also sometimes called an Ishikawa diagram after its creator Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa.

In a fishbone diagram, the list of potential causes are organized into categories that can be traced back to the corresponding effects.

3 types of cause and effect diagrams

There are three types of cause and effect diagrams.

1. Cause enumeration diagram

A cause enumeration diagram lists all the possible causes of a problem, starting with the problem on the left using branches to showcase causes of the problem.

To create a cause enumeration diagram, use MindManager’s fishbone diagram template.

2. Dispersion analysis diagram

A dispersion analysis diagram groups the causes into categories.

You can do this using the MindManager fishbone diagram template to dissect one category at a time to determine where dispersion occurs.

3. Process analysis diagram

A process analysis diagram groups the problems into categories.

Both the dispersion analysis diagram and the process analysis diagram are variations of the cause enumeration diagram.

All three types of cause and effect diagrams can be created using MindManager’s fishbone diagram template.

How to make a cause and effect diagram using MindManager

To make a cause and effect diagram using MindManager is simple. Follow the steps below to get started.

  1. Sign in to your MindManager account.

    Make a web diagram - step 1
  2. Choose from one of the MindManager templates. For this example, we’ll choose the fishbone diagram template.

    Make a web diagram - step 2
  3. Consider an effect or problem. To begin with, consider a possible effect you may be trying to avoid or reach. Let’s continue to use our example above with Peter, who owns a coffee shop. Peter’s problem is a decline in revenue. Why?

    Make a web diagram - step 3
  4. Write the causes. Next, draw up a list of possible things that could cause that effect. Using the coffee shop example, the causes could be low profit because Peter hasn’t increased prices in 15 years. Another cause could be the service isn’t good enough because Peter is understaffed. Other potential causes include a lack of new products and outdated style.

    Make a web diagram - step 4
  5. Connect the causes with the effect. Draw the branches that will connect causes to the effect. In the end, it should look something like you see below. 

    Make a web diagram - step 5

By drawing up a cause and effect diagram you can quickly brainstorm ideas and use it as a guide or prompt to identify possible solutions.

Once you have a visualization of those causes you will be able to share them with your team and stakeholders, and refer to back to them when tackling the project or issue at hand.

Why use MindManager for your cause and effect diagrams

Creating cause and effect visuals can be as simple as making a sketch on paper, or they can be as complex as using a cause and effect diagram software like MindManager.

MindManager's key benefits when using cause and effect diagrams include:

  • A user-friendly, intuitive interface.
  • An extensive image library with over 700 topic images, icons, and symbols.
  • Convenient file storage, retrieval, and sharing.
  • Powerful integrations with file storage apps like Box and OneDrive.
  • Google Docs integration via Zapier.
  • Various tools and features to facilitate brainstorming and strategic planning.

You can also use the Google Chrome extension — MindManager Snap — to easily collect and import text, links, and images from the web.

Identify the root of the problem with cause and effect diagrams

Sketching out ideas when planning a project is a valuable way of clarifying and organizing your thoughts, but your notes may prove useless if you don’t use some kind of a system.

A cause and effect diagram is a brilliant way of quickly arranging your thoughts in a concise and consistent system, speeding up your problem-solving process and enabling you to focus on getting things done.

Are you trying to solve a complicated problem? Sign up for MindManager for free to use a cause and effect diagram to help think through all the possible causes of the problem.

Visualize more with MindManager

Creating cause and effect diagrams in MindManager is easy and intuitive. Simply choose a pre-made template and follow our steps for making a cause and effect diagram. To get started making your own web diagrams, try MindManager free for 30 days.

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