Diagramming Techniques to Identify Risks


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Identifying risks is a crucial element in assessment, prevention, and correction for Project Management. Diagramming those risks is a fast and reliable technique to fully flesh out risks, both potential and actual. Let’s breakdown three diagramming techniques used in Project Management: Ishikawa Diagrams (Cause and Effect or Fishbone), Process Flow Charts (System Diagrams), and Influence Diagrams.

Ishikawa Diagrams

The Ishikawa Diagram, also known as the fishbone diagram due to the way it looks visually, is a cause and effect diagram that was first created by Kaoru Ishikawa in Japan back in 1968. While commonly used in quality defect prevention, it’s also very useful in Risk Identification. Fundamentally, it breaks down into successive layers, root causes that could contribute to a prescribed effect/risk/outcome. While commonly used for quality management, its usefulness extends to risk identification due to its reliance on root cause analysis. Developed specifically for the manufacturing industry, it traditionally looks at the following to determine cause: Machine, Method, Material, Man Power, Measurement, & Environment. These are just categories to help during the brainstorming session, as each of these will have subcategories.

Ishikawa Diagram Example

This example from ASQ.org shows how a manufacturing team used the Ishikawa Diagram to brainstorm potential sources of iron contamination. You’ll notice there are some causes listed in two areas, a product of a causality being influenced by multiple aspects of its operation. This is the strength of the Ishikawa Diagram, allowing for a root cause to be dug out from all potential sources. Source: ASQ.org

Process Flow Diagram

The Process Flow Diagram (PFD) maps out the general flow of processes and equipment. Most commonly used in chemical and process engineering to help display the relationship between major pieces of equipment, the PFD is also very helpful in identifying risks. While predominantly used to establish relationships between major pieces of a large process, the PFD can also be used in granular settings due its efficacy in relationship establishment. The key to using the PFD is to have someone who actually performs the operation diagram the process. This will help ensure that nothing crucial to the process is left out. In truth, everyone involved in the process should, ideally, be involved in the diagramming. Brainstorming together to come up with all the activities that take place during the process is dependent on this. Once you’ve arranged all the activities from beginning to end for the process being diagrammed, check for accuracy and then analyze. This method is especially helpful in identifying bottlenecks and stoppage in the process.

Process Flow Diagram Example

Below is an example or a PFD used to diagram an order being filled. You’ll notice there’s a decision tree built into this example. This is one of the most useful aspects of the PFD for diagramming what happens when an identified risk takes place as you can map out a solution. Source: ASQ.org

Influence Diagrams

Influence Diagrams display a decision problem with nodes representing the decision, the objective, chance variables, general variables, and the influence of each on each other. Influence is represented by directional arrows drawn between the nodes with an A to B depiction in which A influences B. Influence Diagrams complement decision trees and are not encumbered by the exponential growth that is problematic to decision trees. It also allows for sharing among team members incomplete information while still being able to solve an expressed problem. The Influence Diagram is great for singling out risks that could directly influence desired outcomes. Nodes of general variables, situations or environments, and chance variables are all potential homes to risk and are easily identified through the Influence Diagram. And the speed with which you can diagram and identify those risks is amazingly quick. The simplicity of the Influence Diagram allows for a quick high level conceptualization that is hard for other techniques to match.

Influence Diagram Example

The example below illustrates the simplicity and high level view the Influence Diagram showcases. Source: Managementyogi.com

Diagrams Made Easy

Like many things in this day and age, technology has made implementing these techniques even easier. There are plenty of programs available to help you utilize these diagram techniques in quick and easy to share renderings. Whiteboards are perfect for initializing the process while the software is great for saving and sharing your diagrams. Identifying Risks is one of the biggest pieces to successful Project Management. When you’re getting started in PM, it’s heavily covered in pm certification programs. Being able to navigate risk in your projects can be a huge determinant in success versus failure.

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