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Relations Diagram

In many problem situations, there are multiple complex relationships between the
different elements of the problem, which cannot be organized into familiar structures
such as hierarchies or matrices. The Relations Diagram addresses these situations by
showing relationships between items with a network of boxes and arrows.
The most common use of the Relations Diagram is to show the relationship between one
or more problems and their causes, although it can also be used to show any complex
relationship between problem elements, such as information flow within a process.

El diagrama de relaciones es una herramienta que ayuda a analizar un problema cuyas causas
están relacionadas de manera compleja. El diagrama de relaciones permite alcanzar una visión
de conjunto sobre cómo las causas están en relación con sus efectos.
El objetivo principal del Diagrama de Relaciones es la identificación de las relaciones causales
complejas que pueden existir en una situación dada (Mizuno, 1988[1]). El método da por
supuesto que hay muchas posibles causas y efectos en torno a un determinado problema. El
objetivo de la aplicación de la herramienta es obtener sus posibles causas, analizando la
complejidad de sus relaciones.
El diagrama, no obstante, puede efectuarse desde una perspectiva “positiva”, es decir, situando
en el centro, en lugar de un problema, un objetivo o efecto deseable para el que se buscarán
los posibles caminos o acciones.

 Facilita la comprensión de los vínculos entre las ideas o las relaciones causa-efecto.
 Permite al equipo examinar de forma más completa las relaciones entre las ideas tras, haber
elaborado un diagrama de afinidad, un diagrama de causa-efecto o un diagrama de árbol,
 Ayuda a explorar dónde se han de centrar las acciones de mejora o la resolución de un
problema, permitiendo fijar prioridades.
 Proporciona consenso al equipo sobre las causas clave que deben ser investigadas.
 Analizar las causas de un problema complejo, comprendiendo cómo están conectados sus
distintos aspectos.
 Identificar el área de mayor impacto para la mejora.
 Caracterizar los elementos críticos en la consecución de un objetivo.

Para llevar a cabo un diagrama de relaciones es necesario un grupo de trabajo cuyos

componentes conozcan bien el problema o, en general, la situación que se va a analizar.

When to use it
 Use it when analyzing complex situations where there are multiple interrelated issues.
 Use it where the current problem is perceived as being a symptom of a more important
underlying problem.
 It is also useful in building consensus within groups.
 It is commonly used to map cause-effect relationships, but also can be used to map any
other type of relationship.
 Use it, rather than an Affinity Diagram, when there are logical, rather than subjective,
 Use it, rather than a Cause-Effect Diagram, when causes are non-hierarchic or when there
are complex issues.

Fig. 1. Using the Relationship Diagram in problem solving

The design department of a company which produces industrial cabinets were continually
irritated by the production department, who kept modifying their designs. The production
department, on the other hand, considered the design department to have their 'heads in
the clouds' when it came down to real production issues. To understand this problem, two
members from each department met to try and find the key causes of this problem and
how they could address it. Initially they could not agree, and so decided to use a cause-
effect Relations Diagram to try and work from their two problems in towards common
causes that could be addressed. They defined the problems as (a) production make bad
changes to design, and (b) designs are impractical to build.
In the next meeting, they put the problem cards on either side of the work area and
started Brainstorming possible causes, working in towards one another. Initially, each
department naturally focused on their grievance area. However, working together, keying
off each other's thoughts they soon started to find common areas. Their mutual
understanding further improved when they started to add causal links, and they were
surprised how easily they agreed on the final key causes. Their diagram is shown below.
As result, a cross-functional task force developed a product lifecycle to involve all
departments. This included cross-functional meetings and training requirements.

Fig. 1. Example Relations Diagram

1. Form a team of between four and seven people to work on the problem. The ideal
team has a close working knowledge of the problem area (to be able to identify
why things happen) and between them can cover all potential topics.

2. Identify the type of relationship to be mapped, and how this is to be displayed. A

useful way of doing this is to identify a simple question which, when answered,
will enable related items to be identified. For example, 'What must be done before
this item?'. Encourage a common approach in the meeting by displaying this
question clearly.
The most common Relations Diagram is a map of the interrelationship between
the causes of one or more problems, in which case the question is,
'What directly causes this item?'. Some other possible relationships are discussed
under Practical Variations.

3. Define each problem clearly, writing it as a complete, but brief, sentence on a 3" x
5" card. This may come from a key issue identified through the use of another tool.
There may be more than one such problem statement.
Mark the problem cards to differentiate them from other cards, for example with a
bold border.

4. Produce the set of items to be related in the diagram. There are several approaches
that may be taken here:
o Use the identified relationship and question from step 2 with a
Brainstorming or Nominal Group Technique session.
o Use items that have been already generated from other tools, such as an
Affinity Diagram, Cause-Effect Diagram or Tree Diagram.
o Data can also be collected in other ways, such as with Surveys. Where data
represents what someone has said, retain the exact wording so that the
associated feeling is not lost.

Write each item on a 3" x 5" card, distinguishing item cards from problem cards,
for example by writing problem cards with heavier printing or adding a box
around the text. Aim for around 15 to 50 cards. Less may indicate a problem
which may not benefit from using this tool, whilst more becomes difficult to

5. If Brainstorming was used in step 4, then put the item cards randomly in a 'parking
area' where they may be transferred to the main 'organization area'. If other
methods were used, then they may already be in an order which is worth keeping
(such as Affinity groups).
Putting cards into a random order before selecting them destroys any prior
patterns and encourages more creative and original thought when reorganizing
them in step 7.

6. Determine where to place the problem description card(s) from step 3 in the
organization area. This should give sufficient space for the other cards to be placed
in step 7.
Thus, if there is one problem and many apparent interrelationships between item
cards, place the problem card centrally. If it looks like there are long chains of
relationships, with some being remotely connected with the problem, put the
problem card on the right. If there are multiple problems with many shared item
cards, space the problem cards out around the edge of the area.
The organization area needs to be large enough to easily contain all cards, spaced
out sufficiently to draw in arrows between them (in step 9).

7. Select a card in the organization area and look for a card in the parking area which
answers the question identified in step 2. For a cause-effect Relations Diagram this
will be a card which is a direct cause of a problem card.
Move this to the organization area, as in the diagram below, placing it near the
appropriate problem card, leaving space to draw an arrow between the two cards
(do not draw any arrows now, as cards may be moved). This may require some
discussion, but avoid lengthy argument as this may make the session overly long.
Repeat this step, selecting and placing cards near the problem cards, until all
cards with a direct relationship have been moved.
Fig. 1. Moving cards to form diagram
8. For each card laid in step 7, repeat the process of searching for cards in the parking
area that are directly related to it, then placing this new card nearby. When placing
cards, also look for links to or from other cards in the organization area and
position the card accordingly.
You may have to pause occasionally to move cards on the organization area, to
make space for new cards or show newly discovered relationships. In these cases,
be careful to preserve the relative positioning of cards.
During this process, additional new cards may be written as new relationships are

9. Review the layout with the team and use the question from step 2 to help draw
arrows between cards on the diagram as relationships are agreed. Draw the arrows
going from causes to effects. Avoid confusion where lines cross by using a 'hump-
back' bridge.
Beware of adding arrows for weak relationships, as this can result in the
important link being hidden in a mass of arrows. If in doubt, draw in the main
links first, and only add lesser links as long as the diagram remains intelligible.
Also avoid two-way arrows; where the relationship is bidirectional, place the
arrowhead to show the most significant direction.
Fig. 2. Adding arrows to show relationships

10.Identify and mark key items that are to be addressed further, such as with shading
or emboldening. For example, when using a cause-effect Relations Diagram,
actions might include:
o Addressing cause cards with most arrows entering and leaving them may be
an easy way to have significant effect.
o Addressing causes with arrows leaving them may contribute to resolving a
number of subsequent causes.
o Addressing causes that have multiple arrows entering them may unblock
o Addressing causes that have no arrows entering them may fix root causes.
11.Treat this diagram as a first draft. Check that assumed causes are actual causes.
Review it for other changes, marking up changes on the copies.
If the diagram may be read by people who do not understand the symbols, add a
12.Review the marked changes, update the document accordingly and repeat the
review as necessary. Plan and implement concrete actions to address key items.

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