Organisation : Approaching Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Management Issues with the Fishbone Diagram

Fiona King is business blogger-in-training eager to share her experience and expertise in customer relations management.

As a manager, you would know that your company follows systematic ways of doing certain things. From acquiring clients, to fulfilling their demands, to screening and training your employees and everything else in between, you observe a set protocol to carry out your responsibilities effectively.

But having a system of how to get things done isn’t patented on achievements. It also applies to circumstances where you have to deal with drawbacks in the company. It is undeniably sound to set guidelines on how tasks should be completed, but it is equally important to devise or at least refer to tested management approaches when the need for solutions arises.

However, solving problems isn’t just about identifying what needs fixing and how to do it; it almost always begins with finding out the cause of it all so that they would be avoided in the future.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to determining what actually caused the problem. The Fishbone Diagram, a causality approach common among managers and team leaders when ensuring quality, is a good way of finding the root of a problem.

Actually, it’s called the Ishikawa Diagram

The brainchild of Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa, a renowned Japanese professor and quality control specialist, the Fishbone Diagram was meant to determine the reasons that caused a particular event to occur, or in some cases, not occur. While this event doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem, the model has been widely used as an approach when unraveling the cause of management drawbacks and eventually to keep the adverse or the inevitably negative effects to a minimum.

As its name implies, the fishbone diagram resembles the skeleton of a fish. The head signifies the event or the problem and the bones in the body represent the factors or reasons that contribute to the occurrence of the said event. When drawn into a diagram, the bones in the body can branch into more sub-categories and details especially when digging deeper into the root cause of the problem.

Since its inception in 1968, the fishbone diagram has been called a number of nicknames aside and now goes by cause-and-effect diagram, herringbone diagram, and the witty-sounding one, the Fishikawa Diagram.

A Bone to Pick: The Categories of Fishbone Diagram

The Fishbone Diagram is all about cause and effect, and while there is no specific number as to how many causes you can determine from a single event, you can use these six categories as a guide when exploring all the possible factors that make the event possible.

  • People. This refers to the person or persons involved in the problem.
  • Methods. This pertains to the processes that govern the completion of a task. It can come in the form of rules, guidelines, instructions, or policies.
  • Machines. This category entails any kind of machine, equipment, or tools the person needs to use to carry out a task.
  • Materials. The materials can be anything that is used or processed the person utilizes to create the finished product.
  • Measurements. This refers to the data that will be used as a yardstick when evaluating the performance of the person and the quality of the product he or she produced.
  • Environment. This signifies the surroundings the person is working in as well as the elements that affect its conditions such as temperature, location, time, and culture.

Incorporating the 5 Whys

The Fishbone Diagram, albeit being an effective approach to fleshing out a problem’s cause/s, is usually done using another probing technique — the 5 Whys.

This approach involves asking five questions that begin with “Why” to delve into the cause-and-effect connections that exist and contribute to the occurrence of the event. According to experts, it takes a minimum of five iterations to solve a problem, thus the name. What makes the 5 Whys approach a good partner for the Fishbone Diagram is that cause-and-effect scenarios are ideally answered by asking “why” questions.

Here is an example: Say, you have in your team an agent who has been performing quite well in the past two years. Recently, however, you noticed that he is incurring a considerable number of absences and that this behavior has affected the performance of your entire team. His not being there distressed the meeting of the client’s expectations and lowered the team’s overall score. How will you apply the Fishbone Diagram and the 5 Whys in solving the problem?

As for the diagram, you can start by drawing the head and make it signify the problem of your agent’s absenteeism, i.e. Why is Agent A often absent? Imagine answering this question with “Agent A has been having difficulty in dealing with the new team leader.” Next, choose the categories that you think are influential to the manifestation of the problem. Then, ask the first why. If, for instance, you included people in your categories, you can ask “Why is Agent A having problems with his new team leader?” The answer could be “Maybe Agent A had a misunderstanding with his new team leader and thus he isn’t motivated to go to work.”

For every “why” question, draw a main bone on the skeleton and write the answers and follow-up questions in branches.


You can continue with this pattern and apply it to the different categories until you’ve exhausted all the possible causes for all the effects. Just remember that these models of approaching issues were primarily made to analyze existing problems and to aid you in brainstorming for solutions.

By asking questions that probe for reason, managers will be able to discern how to sustain or improve the quality of your employee’s performance. Furthermore, realizing the factors that affect operations will help you see the weaknesses of your system thus giving you the opportunity to control the harm it imposes even before it strikes. 

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