Extreme Fishbones

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Richard Maltzman
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Project managers and aficionados of quality tools know the fishbone diagram.  They also may know it by other names; the Ishikawa diagram after Kaoru Ishikawa, and the Cause and Effect diagram after what it is meant to show, namely the cause(s) of some sort of ill effect.

We use this to help troubleshoot problems by placing the ill effect at the “head” of the fish, drawing a ‘backbone’ from that head, and using ‘ribs’ –representing potential types of causes that could yield the ill-effect.  Then we ‘animate the diagram by ‘asking why’ over and over again, thus building out the rib and eventually leading to a 'eureka moment' as we discover a possible cause.  My favorite example of this is illustrated below, and is timely in that we have just crowned our USA National Champion in college basketball – the University of North Carolina.

In this case, the ill-effect is the deadly ‘missed free throw”, something basketball coaches absolutely despise… a golden opportunity to score, wasted.  So, what contributes to this?



Amongst the fishbone “ribs” in this example are (for example) the “Machine” (the hoop and backboard), the Shooter, and the Environment (the weather).

And that’s the segue to the topic that also looks for a cause-effect relationship that involves the weather; this time the sought after connection is that between extreme weather and climate change.

As you should know, weather and climate are very different.  We’ll let NASA tell you about this difference.

The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time. Weather is what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere "behaves" over relatively long periods of time.

When we talk about climate change, we talk about changes in long-term averages of daily weather. Today, children always hear stories from their parents and grandparents about how snow was always piled up to their waists as they trudged off to school. Children today in most areas of the country haven't experienced those kinds of dreadful snow-packed winters, except for the Northeastern U.S. in January 2005. The change in recent winter snows indicate that the climate has changed since their parents were young.

Read more here: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/noaa-n/climate/climate_weather.html

So they’re different.  But what we notice is the weather.  Is there any connection between weather, say, extreme weather (an ill-effect) and climate change?  Until now, there has been no definitive link.  But a recent article by respected climate scientist Michael Mann of Penn State University and several colleagues.  Their findings were published in Scientific Reports (reference below).

That finding, released just a few days ago, is best summed up by this article from Science Daily:

Unprecedented summer warmth and flooding, forest fires, drought and torrential rain -- extreme weather events are occurring more and more often, but now an international team of climate scientists has found a connection between many extreme weather events and the impact climate change is having on the jet stream.

"We came as close as one can to demonstrating a direct link between climate change and a large family of extreme recent weather events," said Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science and director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State. "


"We are now able to connect the dots when it comes to human-caused global warming and an array of extreme recent weather events," said Mann.

While the models do not reliably track individual extreme weather events, they do reproduce the jet stream patterns and temperature scenarios that in the real world lead to torrential rain for days, weeks of broiling sun and absence of precipitation.

"Currently we have only looked at historical simulations," said Mann. "What's up next is to examine the model projections of the future and see what they imply about what might be in store as far as further increases in extreme weather are concerned."

We realize that as project managers we don’t often have to make these ‘huge’ connections as did the team under Michael Mann.  We do need to be good ‘troubleshooters’, and the Fishbone Diagram is an excellent thinking tool for us and our project teams.  And even though the connection of effect to cause related to extreme weather and climate change is not directly applicable to PMs, I do assert that this helps reiterate the value of the Fishbone diagram, and, it can’t hurt to learn the science of climate and weather, either.  After all, extreme weather is definitely an ill-effect that can threaten your project objectives – and maybe much more.


Reference to original article:

Michael E. Mann, Stefan Rahmstorf, Kai Kornhuber, Byron A. Steinman, Sonya K. Miller, Dim Coumou. Influence of Anthropogenic Climate Change on Planetary Wave Resonance and Extreme Weather Events. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7: 45242 DOI: 10.1038/srep45242

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: April 06, 2017 10:01 AM | Permalink

Comments (1)

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A nice discussion on using the fishbone diagrams effectively and applied to real world situations that aren't obvious candidates.

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