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Relationship Diagram: Practical variations

The Quality Toolbook > Relationship Diagram > Practical variations

When to use it | How to understand it | Example | How to do it | Practical variations


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Practical variations

  • Use adhesive memo notes instead of cards. These stay where they are put, and can be used to sort the notes vertically, on a whiteboard or flipchart. Their disadvantage is that they are not as durable as card.
  • If cards are used, stop them from moving by attaching them to the organization area, either with reusable adhesive pads or by using a pinboard.
  • Instead of using cards, draw the diagram directly. This can result in a less tidy first diagram, particularly in a complex, uncertain situation, but requires less resource. It can be helped by first writing the causes as a list, then crossing them off as they are added to the diagram.
  • Display a list of items that may help the team to identify causes. These may be taken from (and even displayed as) the Cause-Effect Diagram. For example, manpower, machines, methods, materials, (the '4 Ms') money, management, plans, customers. These may be broken down further into specific items, such as individual roles, machines, etc.
  • Indicate differing confidence cards in relationships. For example, where there is a mixture of measured, unmeasured and speculative relationships, show the difference by circling those which are measured and underlining those which are unmeasured.
  • Start with a desired effect, and determine what must be done to cause it by asking the question: 'What must be done to make this happen?'.
  • Use the diagram to determine what may be caused by a planned action, using the question: 'What could happen as a result of this?'
  • Use different shaped boxes to indicate different items.
  • Show groups of related items by putting dotted lines around them.
  • Include items, other than problems and causes, which affect the problem, such as documents.
  • Use it to show the relationships between any items. For example, the boxes may be people, and the arrows indicate where one person influences another's decisions.
  • Use it to show relations between items within a process, as in Fig. 1. This is an informal way of mapping processes which is often called a Block Diagram. The question may thus be: 'What happens next?'.
  • A typical use is for understanding the top level of a process. Each process in this diagram may then be detailed further ('zoomed into' or 'exploded') in subsequent diagrams. Typically these will be more Block Diagrams or Flowcharts.



Fig. 1. Block Diagram


  • A State Transition Diagram (or Finite State Diagram) is used to describe a type of process where an item passes between a number of stable 'states', as below. It is useful for describing specific parts of processes which take this form.
  • The relationship between items is in terms of the stimulus that causes the change in state and the action that is taken after the stimulus is recognized, in order to complete the state change.



 Fig. 2. State-Transition Diagram


  • An Entity-Relationship Diagram shows the relationship between individual items, including the cardinality of each relationship (i.e. how many of each item may exist), as below.



Fig. 3. Entity-Relationship Diagram

  • A Mind Map or Spider Diagram (as below) is an informal diagram which can be used in individual thinking or Brainstorming to help build and relate individual items. This starts with the main problem at the center of the page, and has related items spread around it and connected with lines and arrows.
  • There are few formal rules, as the objective is to assist in thinking, and it may be adapted to suit the individual, for example by using annotations, doodles, shapes and color to express elements of the problem and emboldening, dotting or drawing wavy arrows to indicate the certainty of links.



Fig. 4. Mind Map




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