The Purpose and Applications of Relations Diagrams

Quality in Healthcare

The Purpose and Applications of Relations Diagrams

A relations diagram borders on being a tool for root cause identification, but is mainly used to identify logical relationships in a complex and confusing problem situation. In such cases, the strength of a relations diagram is its ability to visualize such relationships.

A relations diagram’s main purpose is to help identify relationships that are not easily recognizable.

In root cause analysis, this is particularly useful for:

  • Understanding how different aspects of the problem are connected.
  • Seeing relationships between the problem and its possible causes that can be further analyzed.

The Steps in Using Relations Diagrams

  1. Determine the factors to be analyzed for possible relationships and label these using brief and succinct definitions.
  2. Plot the factors on an empty chart on a whiteboard, preferably in a roughly circular shape.
  3. Assess what impacts each factor and which factors are impacted by it, and illustrate the relationships using arrows.
  4. After all relationships have been assessed, count the number of arrows pointing into and away from each factor and denote this information on the diagram.
  5. Depending on the number of arrows pointing in each direction for a factor, it can play one of two roles: driver (more arrows away from than into), or indicator (more arrows into than away from).
  6. When continuing the root cause analysis, the drivers form the starting point.

Example: Read about how a small hospital used a relations diagram to understand factors related to declining productivity of its doctors.

Excerpted from Root Cause Analysis: Simplified Tools and Techniques, by Bjørn Andersen and Tom Fagerhaug, pages 106–107.

Download the entire excerpt on relations diagrams (PDF, 3.54 MB).

Create your own relations diagram using these tools:

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