One of the joys of my working life is doing something innovative. So to be asked to develop a three module course on Problem Solving and Decision Making was great, and our client, SAP, is a great company.
But it’s better. This work gave me a chance to learn how to develop training for a virtual classroom. Up to 16 participants around the world, learning with one facilitator, using great technology.
This is all beside the point
The point is this: running today’s module, on analytical methods, we covered a great problem solving tool which I also use for risk management. I suspect many change leaders, and project and risk managers will have heard of it – but never thought to use it in their risk management process.
I am talking about Fishbone Diagrams
Fishbone diagrams are used to find root causes and are formally known as the Ishikawa Method. This tool is ideal for getting to causes.
We draw a fishbone diagram, putting the problem at the head of the fish. We then identify all of the possible causes and place each onto a “rib”. In the example below, here are eight typical sources of a problem.
We might then break each one down further, identifying different reasons why the hardware, data, processes or skills might cause the problem. With “skills”, for example, the cause could be lack of training, inappropriate training, poor workplace support for developing skills, or poor motivation to use the skills.
How does this apply to Risk Management?
When we are identifying our risks, we often end up with a load of risks that are hard to manage, because they are poorly specified. They are big and nebulous, because they are really not one risk at all: they are a basket of other, more specific risks.
Here are some examples:
- When we move HQ building, there is a risk we won’t be able to sell the old property
- There may be a technical problem with the AV equipment at the conference we are organising
- Our new product launch could be delayed by problems with the point of sale materials
All of these are real concerns, but each is the outcome of many individual risks. By writing the concern into the fish head, you can then use your fishbone diagram to identify potential causes of the outcome.
Each of these causes is a risk that you can manage: each will have its own likelihood, impact, proximity and mitigating strategies.
The “so what?”
Don’t accept risks onto your risk register that you cannot manage, because they are too woolly or general; focus your risk management on causes, not outcomes; try out the fishbone method as a way to find causes in your risk analysis.