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Success and Effect Diagram

Quality Glossary Definition: Success and effects diagram

The success and effects diagram is a hybrid of the fishbone diagram that uses five whats instead of five whys as the analysis tool to help uncover the root success of a process, rather than the root cause. The success and effects diagram is an important quality improvement tool because too often, organizations ignore successes while they focus on problems that need immediate attention.

Using quality improvement techniques and tools to analyze success gives a new dimension to continuous improvement processes. By understanding successful processes, you can uncover what is working well and transfer that knowledge to other processes to make them more efficient and effective. Using quality improvement techniques and tools to understand what makes something successful shines a light on the good work an organization does, not just the areas that fall short.

Attributes of a Successful Process

Stakeholders were surveyed, and the following list of attributes of successful processes were collected. This is not an all-inclusive list, but it can be used to start analyzing successful processes:

  • Efficient: the process produces the required output at minimum resource cost (e.g., "doing the right things right")
  • Effective: the process does what it is supposed to do and produces outputs that conform to stated requirements
  • Cost controlled: all costs are monitored and managed
  • Predictable: the output is consistent
  • Managed by employees with the right skills and attitudes: employee skills meet the requirements of the process and are upgraded when the process is improved, and employee attitudes are customer- and quality-oriented
  • Timely: the process produces its output correctly and on time
  • Tracked using visible metrics: the process is measured at many points, performance is plotted, and results are made visible to show those performing the process how it is operating
  • Lean: process owners have applied lean principles and all process steps are valued added
  • Optimized for all variables: all variables have been studied and statistically optimized
  • Continuously improving: the process is always undergoing improvement
  • Supported by a culture of innovation: the organization empowers employees to improve continuously
  • Conducted with a sense of ownershipemployees feel a sense of ownership of their work
  • Uses 5Sthere is evidence that the 5Ss have been applied to the organization and its processes
  • Produces high-quality output: what the process produces meets or exceeds customer expectations

analyzing a successful process

  1. As shown in Figure 1, write the success as a symptom statement on the right side of the page and draw a box around it with an arrow running to it. This success is now the effect to analyze.
  2. Generate ideas about the main successes of the effect. Use the attribute list detailed above as a starting point. Label these as the main branch headers of the diagram.
  3. For each main success category, brainstorm ideas about the related sub-successes that might affect the issue statement. Use the five whats technique when a success is identified: What caused this success?
  4. Figure 1: Success and Effect Diagram Template
    Success and effect diagram template

  5. Keep repeating the five whats technique until no other success can be identified. List the sub-successes using arrows. Keep in mind there may be multiple root successes (see below).


Figure 2 is a success and effect diagram created to analyze a top-level organization's successful correspondence process. The team identified headers specific to the successful process they were analyzing: people, method, material, and machine. Under the four major headers they asked what made this successful to help the team zero in on potential root success. 

Figure 2: Success and Effect Diagram Example
Success and effects diagram example

To understand how the process of finding the root success works, consider how the team analyzed the main header of "materials" in Figure 2. The first what starts with "Documents are on time, accurate, and consistent with applicable policy." This is the observed success. Next, the team repeated the what question to drill down into root success (Figure 3):

  • Observed success: Documents are on time, accurate, and consistent with applicable policy.
  • Visible success: Meets the customer’s requirements.
  • First-level success: People who are processing documents are trained appropriately.
  • Higher-level success: Customer needs are understood and service-level targets are set and monitored.
  • Highest-level success: Customer needs are collected regularly and reported to those performing the process.

Figure 3: Finding Root Success Example
Finding root success using the five whats

Multiple Root Successes

There may be more than one root success that makes a process perform at an optimal level. Each main header needs to be analyzed to determine what made it successful. Many successful processes have compound successes, where different factors combine to make the process a success. Rarely does a successful process have a single root success.

After determining the top few root successes, see how the successful attributes relate to each other using an interrelationship diagram to determine if there are interconnections between the potential root successes. Determining these interconnections may show patterns that change the decision on which root success(es) make the process effective.

Another approach is to use the root success analysis rating form shown in Figure 4. This matrix offers a way to prioritize the root success(es) uncovered using the success and effect diagram. The matrix allows the team to assess each potential root cause over a number of potential impact dimensions and develop a score. The score can help rank the potential root successes, with the attribute having the most impact ranked #1. 

Figure 4: Root Success Analysis Rating Form
Root success analysis rating form

Excerpted from The Public Health Quality Improvement Handbook, ASQ Quality Press.

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