What is a Cause and Effect Diagram?

The Cause and Effect diagram identifies many possible causes for an effect or problem. It can be used to structure a brainstorming session. It immediately sorts ideas into useful categories.

How to Develop a Cause and Effect Diagram

1. Agree on a problem statement (effect). Place an activity at the center right of the ProcessModel layout. Write the problem statement in the activity. Use the cause and effect line style to draw a line connecting to the problem statement.

Cause and Effect diagram problem statement in ProcessModel process improvement software
Cause and Effect diagram problem statement.

2. Brainstorm the major categories of causes of the problem. If this is difficult use generic headings:

  • Methods
  • Machines (equipment)
  • People (manpower)
  • Materials
  • Measurement
  • Environment

3. Write the categories of causes as branches from the main arrow. Use the connector tool to draw connectors attaching to the backbone of the diagram and type after each line is completed to create the headings.

Adding categories to the cause and effect diagram.
Adding categories to the cause and effect diagram.

4. Brainstorm all the possible causes of the problem. Ask: “Why does this happen?” As each idea is given, the facilitator creates it as a branch from the appropriate category. Causes can be created in several places if they relate to several categories.

Cause and Effect sub-categories for ProcessModel process improvement software
Cause and Effect sub-categories


Cause and Effect diagram in ProcessModel software.
Reorganizing causes may yield greater clarity and understanding.

5. Again ask “why does this happen?” about each cause. Write sub–causes branching off the causes. Continue to ask “Why?” and generate deeper levels of causes. Layers of branches indicate causal relationships.

6. When the group runs out of ideas, focus attention to places on the chart where ideas are few.

Why use ProcessModel to create a Cause and Effect diagram?

These diagrams can be drawn on a white board, on a flip chart or put together using sticky notes. They are especially easy to draw if you know what they look like ahead of time. The problem is that you don’t know what the diagram is going to look like ahead of time. Much of the time is spent correcting, redrawing or moving things around. ProcessModel has great features for:

  • Moving items to other locations on the diagram
  • Copying elements
  • Spell checking
  • Deleting
  • Resizing
  • Printing
  • Templates

Also known as: Ishikawa Diagram, Fishbone Diagram.

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