A Winning Combination

Use the Baldrige fishbone diagram for a better root cause analysis

by Varun Rajasekaran

To achieve operational excellence, organizations and project teams use different quality control tools, such as the five whys and fishbone diagrams, and frameworks, such as ISO 9001 and Six Sigma.

While these tools and frameworks are useful, they can have disadvantages when used alone. Fishbone diagrams, for example, aren’t good at depicting the complex interrelationships among various factors and tend to focus on only one minor aspect instead of all root causes.

But what if you could combine tools and frameworks to create a better, more effective tool? One such tool, the Baldrige fishbone diagram, incorporates the best elements of the Baldrige model into a fishbone diagram to help organizations conduct an honest assessment of why they aren’t reaching their targets.

Before describing this new hybrid tool, let’s first understand more about each of its elements.

Baldrige model

The Baldrige model is a framework that organizations can follow to improve their performance and achieve sustainable results. It differentiates itself from standards by acting as a comprehensive management approach that focuses on results in all areas of the organization by addressing a dynamic environment, concentrating on strategy-driven performance, engaging customers and the workforce, and refining governance, ethics, societal responsibilities, competitiveness and long-term organizational sustainability.

The systematic approach of the Baldrige performance excellence framework is shown in Online Figure 1. There are seven categories in the center of the figure: leadership; strategic planning; customer focus; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; workforce focus; process management; and results.

Figure 1

The foundation of the criteria is a set of core values and concepts that are beliefs and behaviors embedded in high-performing organizations.

Fishbone diagram

Known as a cause and effect diagram, Ishikawa diagram, herringbone diagram and fishbone diagram, this quality control tool was conceived in the 1960s by Kaoru Ishikawa, a forerunner of quality management. In addition to being a quality control tool, it also can be used to discover the root cause of a problem and to uncover process blocks.

Online Figure 2 depicts a sample fishbone diagram that shows the various reasons behind an organization’s reduced competitiveness.

Figure 2

Baldrige fishbone diagram

To combine the Baldrige model with a fishbone diagram, replace the fishbone diagram’s categories of causes with the categories of the Baldrige model. Doing so will help an organization’s leadership focus on the root cause of not achieving top line, bottom line or other important targets.

Online Figure 3 is a sample Baldrige fishbone diagram. The categories of causes have been replaced with the categories of the Baldrige model shown in Online Figure 1. The branches have been labeled C, S, L, M, W and P to correspond with the first letter of each Baldrige category. Twigs labeled P1.1 and L1.1, for example, indicate a further drill-down of causes under the process management and leadership categories, respectively.

Figure 3

Successful RCA

Organizations can use the hybrid Baldrige fishbone diagram as a root cause analysis (RCA) tool to address performance issues or as part of an effort to strengthen an application for the Baldrige award. But remember: The key to a successful RCA is an honest assessment and acceptance of the root cause behind any effect.


"Cause and Effect Analysis," MindTools, https://tinyurl.com/3dkn8v.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), "About the Baldrige Excellence Framework," NIST, https://tinyurl.com/y7lc9utn.

Varun Rajasekaran is an associate manager at Tata Technologies in Pune, India. He has a master’s degree in IT from Pune Institute of Computer Technology—School of Technology and Management in Pune and is an ASQ member.

Interesting concept, and one that I want to try. We have a current situation for which this may work well. Thank you for the new perspective.
--Debora Jolly, 06-18-2018

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