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You can facilitate KPI (Key Performance Indicators) 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 (University of Tokyo), he developed the root cause analysis method in 1945 to resolve steel production problems. Also known as “Fishbone” diagrams, they support analysis, identify gaps, provide insight about possible SMART criteria (ie, Specific, Measurable, Adjustable, Relevant, and Time-Based), and make it easier to assign follow-up activities and proactive changes.

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.”  You can facilitate KPI or almost every “fuzzy factor” and then convert to SMART criteria. Prioritized criteria form the foundation for major initiatives around Balanced Scorecard, dashboard techniques, portfolio decisions, and other essential corporate processes such as idea management and prioritization.

How to Facilitate Root Cause Analysis

Frequently referred to as a Cause and Effect Diagram, here is how to facilitate root cause analysis. When you facilitate root cause analysis or an Ishikawa diagram, the illustration may resemble the skeleton of a fish with large bones (ie, perspective) and small bones (ie, specific cause within each perspective).

How to Facilitate KPIs or Root Cause Analysis --- an Ishikawa Diagram

Facilitate KPI or Root Cause Analysis through an Illustrative Fishbone Diagram

The Fishbone Diagram

The fishbone diagram helps categorize the potential causes of problems in a structured manner so the team identify can focus on root cause analysis. Here are the workshop steps to facilitate root cause analysis (or KPIs) and build a simple cause and effect diagram:

  1. In advance, prepare a blank fishbone drawing (devoid of content) using either multiple sheets of paper, or some professional drawing tool.
  2. 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.
  3. Based on importance and time limitations, constrain the total number of primary “causes”, typically between eight and twelve total. As a practical activity, you may also focus on fewer, even one or two primary perspectives, or four as illustrated above.
  4. Alternatively, you may launch a brainstorming activity of all possible causes, and then seek common purpose to help the team categorize them. Many approaches to cause and effect diagrams begin with four likely perspectives. Although you can experiment with the perspectives, four perspectives frequently 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

Consider Breakout Teams for Root Cause Analysis

You might also use breakout teams and assign one or more primary causes. Optimally, determine the most pertinent types of causes as a large group before breaking out. Then assign different causes or perspectives to sub-teams, or work offline for additional development.

  • During a break, lunchtime, or evening, create an illustration of your diagram. Provide your workshop participants with full narrative definitions for each of the perspectives used in your fishbone diagram.
  • Depending on time constraints, lead your root cause analysis activity either by beginning with the most important perspective, taking the likely causes within a perspective, or perhaps grab the easiest to manage, the “low-hanging” fruit. Determine clear and simple questions in advance to lead root cause analysis and know what you intend to do with the results. Understand the type of documentation required to satisfy your 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.

Building a fishbone diagram generates consensus 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 priorities and next steps. Carefully identify WHO does WHAT by WHEN to design your next steps.

Changing Perspectives for Root-Cause Analysis

NOTE: You may use any of the perspectives suggested, combine perspectives from different categories, or make up your own perspective to help your group focus their input from a specific point of view. Identify potential root causes within each primary area or perspective. Borrow liberally from the five perspectives below listing 30 potential causes:

The 6 M’s

    • Machines, Manpower. Materials, Measurements, Methods, Mother Nature

The 7 P’s

    • Packaging, People, Place, Policies, Positioning, Price, Procedure, Product/ Service, Promotion

The 5 S’s

    • Safety, Skills, Suppliers, Surroundings, Systems

Six Trends from the World Future Society

    • Demographic—covers specific population groups, family composition, public-health issues, etc.
    • Economic—includes finance, business, work and careers, and management
    • Environmental—includes resources, ecosystems, species, 
and habitats
    • Governmental—includes world affairs, politics, laws, and public policy
    • Societal—covers lifestyles, values, religion, leisure, culture, and education
    • Technological—includes innovations, scientific discoveries, and their affects

Six Purchasing Value/ Utility Levers and Potential Bottlenecks

    • Customer productivity
    • Simplicity
    • Convenience
    • Risk
    • Fun and image
    • Environmental friendliness

Digging Deep

Use an idea-generating technique to identify factors within each perspective that could cause the problem being analyzed. For example, ask… “What are the possible machine issues affecting/ causing…?”

  • Repeat this procedure with each perspective to produce potential causes. Continue asking, “Why is this happening?” and put additional causes against each perspective.
  • Exhaust each perspective until you no longer get useful information as you ask, “Why is that happening?”.
  • Analyze the results of the fishbone after team members agree that an adequate amount of detail has been provided under each major perspective. Look for those items that appear in more than one perspective. These repetitive factors become the most likely or frequent causes that may generate longer discussions.
  • For those items identified as the “most likely causes”, consider using a prioritization method to lead the team to consensus about listing those items in priority sequence with the first item being the “most probable” or “most impactful” cause. For a simple and highly effective prioritization method:
    • Build the criteria for evaluation.
    • Separate the SMART from the fuzzy (where SMART discussed elsewhere equates to Specific, Measurable, Adjustable, Relevant, and Time-Based as compared against DUMB that equates to Dull, Ubiquitous, Myopic, and Broad).
    • Prioritize the criteria using PowerBalls and Book-ends.
    • Appeal to the criteria to help the group identify the most impactful of the “most likely causes”.
    • Where the group remains uncertain, challenge the fuzzy factors to create understanding, but only let them use the fuzzy factors when discussing critical causes. Do not let them waste time with the least important causes (unless full diligence is required across every potential cause).
    • Optionally, repeat this process when you prioritize solutions by focusing on decision criteria.

For More Root Cause Analysis Tools

For additional visual support and tool instructions on facilitating root cause analysis, see the article by Amanda Athuraliya, The Easy Guide to Root Cause Analysis for Efficient Business Problem-Solving.


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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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