Holy Fishbone
©2021, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.


I'll open this item with a quick explanation of an Ishikawa diagram, more commonly called a fishbone. It looks like a fishbone, with the problem or situation usually placed on the far right or "head of the fish" and a spine going from right to left, with a few categorical branches placed on the spine. People, Process and Technology are favorite choices for the branches, but there are others. Attached to each "branch" are potential causals for the problem that relate to it; for example, under "technology" one might have "System not reliable." This helps group possible causes into categories. Once these are documented, there are various methods used to determine which causes are likely to be the most significant to solving the problem and actually can be addressed. (Some of them turn out to be "Thatís Life.")

I had an assignment to work with several call centers to understand why there was an apparent limit to how many calls per hour could be taken. More calls per hour meant more customers could be satisfied. I interviewed something like fifty people, from work at home representatives to third-level supervisors. I then dutifully recorded all of the individual answers, combining ones that were basically forms of each other. And from there I gave them a category and added them to the fishbone.

When I was done, I had two hundred and ten items on the fishbone.

Yes, that's a lot.

When this preliminary output was shown to my supervisor's manager, someone who was not prone to strong language, her first comment was "Holy..." And the second word was not "fishbone."

I was prepared for that, and had already constructed a second fishbone which included only those items that were named five times or more across my interviewed population. That brought the number of bones on the fish to a mere eighty-three.

This was still not a reasonable quantity of potential casusals to investigate further, as you might have already concluded. Thatís not the point.

There is a term used in consultancies and elsewhere called "The Thud Factor"óit usually applies to the weight of a final report, which must of course be substantial and meaningful, since it made a Thud Sound when it landed on the desk. The 210 item fishbone had a Thud Factor, in that it literally illustrated a spectrum of opinions and perspectives across the group that took place in my study. That total, in itself, was a finding. In order to have successful process changes which were bought into, all of those perspectives would have to be acknowledged, at least, even if they all couldn't be addressed, which of course they couldn't. I took the first step by taking the time to listen, record and document what I was told. We can't underestimate how important that is to the success of a Six Sigma Project.

By the way, as far as I know, I still have the all-time company record for the number of items on my "Holy... Fishbone."

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