Fishbone Diagramming vs. Process Mapping For QMS Problem Solving

I recently had a conversation with an individual who was completely frustrated with the use of certain problem solving tools that he had acquired, because he couldn’t figure out how these tools interacted, or in other words, which tool should be used first.  The tools in question were fishbone diagramming and process mapping.  This was a valuable discussion to me, because I never realized that someone might become paralyzed due to this kind of indecision.  Ironically, there is no perfect answer for how problem solving tools interact or which tool to employ first.  It depends on the situation.

Here is an illustration:

I was teaching a tools class in which the team had to decide which one of these techniques should be used first.  We thought we would arrive at an easy list of potential solutions using the fishbone diagram, so we began the exercise that way.  We created a list of ideas by brainstorming and using the fishbone which grouped the problems and possible solutions.  Right away, it appeared that nearly all of the problems were process driven.  This immediately challenged us to do a detailed process map to further identify the actual process and related problems.  We kept all of the other ideas from the fishbone and continued on with the process mapping.

The point being, we could have just as easily begun by mapping the process, but we chose the fishbone technique because it was not apparent that we were dealing predominantly with process problems.  Even though we began with the fishbone method, the effort wasn’t wasted because the groupings led us quickly to the process mapping technique and we gained some other knowledge as well.

Using the fishbone technique is effective when you’re not clear where the problems lie, because it is a “free-form’ technique that leads where it leads.  Process mapping is a good tool to begin with if you want to better understand the process.  For example, if your objective is to reduce cycle time or if you are already certain that the problem you’re trying to solve can best be identified in this way.  You can use the fishbone technique after the process map is complete, to drill down on individual process barriers.  The point is there aren’t any hard and fast rules that dictate which tool comes first.  My advice is to make your best choice based on these suggestions, begin and let the ideas flow!  Don’t be discouraged at your first attempts, because facilitating problem solving takes some practice and determination!  For more information on QMS problem solving contact