Relations Diagram

Also Known As
Interrelationship Diagram
Network Diagram

A relations diagram is used for identifying cause-and-effect relationships when evaluating problems that are especially confusing or complicated. When a network of these relationships is present in a problem, the relations diagram becomes especially useful because it allows one to visualize the relationships. The process of creating the diagram can also give a group insight into different elements of a complex situation.


To understand links between cause-and-effect relationships.

To further explore the relationship between ideas following the creation of an affinity, cause-and-effect, or tree diagram.

When analyzing a complex problem to determine its causes.

How do I use this tool?

1. WRITE A STATEMENT DEFINING THE ISSUE to be explored by the diagram.

2. BRAINSTORM IDEAS about the issue. Record the ideas on note cards.

3. Add one idea at a time to the work surface. DETERMINE WHETHER THE IDEA IS RELATED TO OTHERS and then group related ideas in close proximity on the work surface.

4. For each idea, DETERMINE WHETHER THE IDEA INFLUENCES ANY OTHERS. Draw arrows from each idea to those that it influences.

5. ANALYZE THE DIAGRAM. Count the number of arrows in and out for each idea. Ideas with the highest number can be considered the key ideas. Identify which ideas have mostly outgoing arrows - these are the basic causes. Identify which ideas have mostly incoming arrows - these are final effects and may be vital to address.

Expertise Required
Users of this tool usually have some training or experience in its use.
Recommended Supplies/Materials
Note cards

Is a relatively quick process.


Not effective for lists with more than 50 ideas.

Where can I go to learn more?

Lighter D. Process orientation in health care quality. In: Moore C, editor. Quality management in health care: principles and methods. 2nd ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers; 2004. p. 43-101.

Andersen B. Tools for analyzing the performance shortcoming. In: O'Mara P, editor. Business process improvement toolkit. 2nd ed. Milwaukee, WI: ASQ Quality Press; 2007. p. 123-55.

American Society for Quality. Seven new management and planning tools: relations diagram. 2009 [cited 2009 July 23]; Available from:

Bauer J, Duffy G, Westcott R. Improvement tools. The quality improvement handbook. 2nd ed. Milwaukee, WI: ASQ Quality Press; 2006. p. 109-48.