Why procurement professionals need to use the Ishikawa Model within their sourcing activity

Posted on November 21st, 2013 by

Photo of a fish skeleton

Category Management is now well established with organisations, both public and private, having developed their own variations based on 5, 7, and sometimes more, steps.

Even though its application may vary depending on the complexity of the category and legislative hurdles that also need to be observed, it’s clear that Category Management helps enforce project governance and guides professionals through the stages they should follow to ensure success.

But, what happens when it all goes wrong?

Perhaps it’s a subcontractor, whose deliveries are becoming increasing late, with variations sought at every turn, but whose specialist expertise make them integral to your project.

As is often the case in such circumstances, each party blames each other, tensions are high, co-operation is minimal and the relationship at breaking point.

Photo of an large abandoned construction site

So what now?

  • Find another subbie to complete the works?
  • Defer to contractual remedies to solve the problem?
  • Vow to never use them again unless matters are corrected pronto?
  • Escalate internally, using threatening and intimidating behaviour from the hierarchy?
  • Change personnel within the project?
  • Extend the deadlines; pay more money, agree to weekend working?

Or, stop and think about what has happened, what the causal factors are and seek remedies.

Kaoru Ishikawa, the creator of the cause and effect diagram also known as the fishbone diagram (pictured below) wanted to change how people saw quality management. Ishikawa became one of the world’s foremost authorities on quality control with the introduction of quality circles, company-wide quality control involving everyone in the company from the highest level of management right down/across the hierarchy of a company and of course the cause and effect diagram.

Diagram showing Ishikawa's Fishbone Approach

Source: Ishikawa, Kaoru (1968). Guide to Quality Control

With the diagram, all possible causes of a result (good or bad) could be seen and the route of that success or failure sought out. Being able to target a cause allowed the user to pinpoint a problem or accomplishment that may not normally be spotted. This results in improvements in quality from the bottom up and can reduce costs.

What is great about this tool from a procurement and project perspective is that it achieves the following:

  1. Creates an environment where attendees need to switch out of a blame culture, be creative and seek solutions
  2. Is output focused leading the team towards remedial actions and correcting the source of the problem rather than an sticking plaster solution
  3. Provides a logical framework to drive debate
  4. Shows the linkages in an easy diagrammatic way, which really does help in having those eureka moments
  5. Allows and indeed encourages a full review of all processes, documentation and then distils the output/findings again in an easy form

Too often, issues are identified throughout the procurement cycle with casualties falling by the wayside – be they stakeholders, suppliers, reputations, or cost and time implications. Taking a day or two to use tools such as Ishikawa’s is arguably time very well spent.

It would be great to hear from anyone who has used this tool in anger and achieved positive outcomes…