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Streamline Your Project Management with a Free Editable Fishbone Diagram Tool

Project management can be a challenging task, especially if you’re working on complex projects with multiple team members and various stakeholders. One of the most critical aspects of project management is identifying and resolving problems that may arise during the project’s lifecycle. To help you with this, a fishbone diagram tool can be an excellent solution. In this article, we’ll explore what a fishbone diagram is, how it works, and how you can use a free editable fishbone diagram tool to streamline your project management.

What is a Fishbone Diagram?

A fishbone diagram, also known as an Ishikawa diagram or cause-and-effect diagram, is a visual tool used to identify the root cause of an issue or problem. It’s called a fishbone diagram because it resembles the skeleton of a fish with its head as the problem statement and its bones as the possible causes.

How does it work?

The process of creating a fishbone diagram involves brainstorming all possible causes related to the problem at hand and categorizing them into different groups. The main categories typically include people, process, equipment/machinery, materials, environment, and measurement.

Once all possible causes are identified and categorized in their respective branches on the fishbone chart, you can analyze each branch’s potential impact on solving the problem. This helps you identify which areas should be prioritized for further investigation or improvement.

Using Free Editable Fishbone Diagram Tools

Creating a fishbone diagram manually can be time-consuming and challenging—especially if you have multiple projects to manage simultaneously. Fortunately, there are several free editable fishbone diagram tools available online that make this process more efficient.

One such tool is Creately’s free editable fishbone diagram maker that allows users to create customizable diagrams quickly and easily. With Creately’s drag-and-drop interface and pre-designed templates, users can add text boxes for each category and subcategory, color-code branches, and even add images or icons to make their diagrams more visually appealing.

Another option is Lucidchart’s free fishbone diagram maker, which also offers a user-friendly interface with pre-designed templates. Users can customize their diagrams by adding shapes, text boxes, and images to represent each category and subcategory. Moreover, Lucidchart allows users to collaborate with team members in real-time, making it an ideal choice for larger projects with multiple stakeholders.

In conclusion, using a fishbone diagram tool can be an effective way to streamline your project management process by identifying the root cause of problems quickly. With the availability of free editable fishbone diagram tools like Creately and Lucidchart, creating a fishbone diagram has become more accessible than ever before. By using these tools, you can save time and effort while ensuring that your project management process is more efficient and effective.

This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.


problem solving techniques fishbone diagram

How to Use Fishbone Diagram for Problem Solving

Fishbone diagram is a problem-solving tool, used in literal terms like a fishbone. It is also known as a cause and effect diagram. The mechanism is to specifically identify the cause and effect of any business or project problem.

A fishbone diagram can help define potential reasons for an issue. This article will dive into understanding the core principles of the fishbone diagram problem solving as a tool.

In 1943 at Tokyo University, Kaoru Ishikawa created the "Fishbone Diagram." Fishbone diagrams can also be called diagrams of "cause and effect." The fishbone diagram problem solving tool is a perfect tool to dig through an issue when we try to assess the root cause and find a solution effectively.

It offers a mechanism for explicitly identifying the "effect" and then brings you to think about the potential triggers, based on typical manufacturing problems. The fishbone diagram problem solving is a basic model that makes it easy to grasp swift and efficient root causes to implement corrective behavior.

It reflects the question or impact at the fish's head or mouth. Possible contributing factors under separate causal groups are identified on the smaller "bones." A fishbone diagram can help define potential reasons for an issue that would otherwise not be discussed by encouraging the team to look through the definitions and discuss alternate reasons.

fishbone diagram problem solving

Source: EdrawMind

1.1 Why Use Fishbone Diagram for Problem Solving

The fishbone diagram makes you consider more when solving specific problems. During a brainstorming activity, various groups inspire thoughts from different areas.

The fishbone diagram brings order to the process of cause and effect . It's easy for participants to understand the main problems or issues and focus on the question across different potential triggers.

The fishbone diagram helps distinguish the causes and reasons for a problem and lets people intuitively figure out the solutions.

1.2 The Usage of Fishbone Diagram

The fishbone diagram problem solving method can be used when trying to fix problems or discover the root cause of an issue or problem, which helps you to see below the surface, and dive deeper into the real problem.

Here are several typical fishbone diagram problem solving applications:

  • Manufacturing: ,nbsp;Uncover the root cause of a manufacturing problem by brainstorming and rating the likelihood and effect of all factors affecting the manufacturing cycle;
  • Marketing or Product Marketing: ,nbsp;Identify the possible factors that may impede your company's popularity in the marketplace by investigating all the places that affect your product acceptance;
  • Service: ,nbsp;Uncover the root cause of a business issue by brainstorming, and rate the probability and effect of all factors impacting the service delivery process.

There are 7 steps lead you to use fishbone diagram for problem solving:

fishbone diagram problem solving

  • Explain the agenda behind the diagram

Let your team members know that the diagram can help you see different fields or possible areas that might lead to a solution to your current business problem.

  • Draw diagrams

Draw the pattern or shape on your whiteboard, or use a software diagramming tool to ease accessibility. If you need remote attendants to do this exercise, you can quickly build it in EdrawMind and display your computer.

  • Determine a simple statement on an issue

Write down statements at the top of your page or above where you will build the diagram., which means everyone has the same idea of the issue you are concerned with.

  • Select what categories to use

Categories are discussed in more detail below. For example, you can add Policies, Methods, Personnel, and Software categories.

  • Identify potential causes within each category of your problem

Team members may trigger brainstorming or contribute factors that fall into this category. You can either go by category or only come up with ideas and determine which type they fit.

  • Go a step deeper to define sub-causes for any cause in the category

If you decide whether something can or will break down to smaller points, build divisions from the critical point.

Team members study the diagram to determine the most relevant focus points. If you are trying to take this a step forward and fix the root cause, it helps define where you're trying to benefit your initiative. You can't solve all the root factors at once, and some can get more significant payoff than others. Check the diagram for an evaluation of where the concentration of the team is best.

  • Record results

You bring the work in. Capture, and log your work. You will need to return to it later, so you don't want to miss the importance of the exercise that you got.

There are several tips that should be considered when using the fishbone diagram for solving problems:

  • Using the fishbone diagram tool to keep the team focused not on signs, but the problem's causes;
  • Make sure you leave ample room in the diagram between the main groups to add minor specific pointers later;
  • Try making team members write every cause on sticky notes while you're brainstorming causes, moving around the community asking each person about a particular reason. Continue to go through the loops, have more pointers before all suggestions have been eliminated;
  • Encourage each person to join in the brainstorming exercise and voice their own opinions;
  • Remember that the strategy of "five-whys" is often used in combination with the fishbone diagram.

fishbone diagram problem solving

While it takes time to create a fishbone diagram , it will help you and your team define the real causes and encourage you to strengthen the process and make permanent improvements.

Regardless, whether you are using the graphical or indented fishbone hierarchy, this process optimization method will significantly help you understand the factors involved in a process. The root causes of the event are the underlying process and system issues, which allowed the contribution. Hence fishbone diagram , the problem-solving tool, is extremely crucial when discussing strategies to deal with problems.

EdrawMind is an easy-to-use, flexible mind mapping tool designed to help you generate modern, fresh visuals and mind maps. By combining the bullet points into a mind map on a project, EdrawMind lets you organize the thoughts or concepts and create essential strategies.

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Using Fishbone Diagrams to Solve Problems

problem solving techniques fishbone diagram

Fishbone diagrams may also be referred to as “Cause and Effect” diagrams, or Ishikawa diagrams , after their founder Kaoru Ishikawa. Whatever your preferred term, the fishbone diagram is a great tool for delving into a problem when we need to determine the root cause, and you are surrounded by the opinions of those around you. It provides a process to clearly define the “Effect” and then puts you to thinking about the possible causes, based on the categories of common problems in manufacturing.

Defining your “Effect”

The first step in using the fishbone diagram as a problem-solving tool is to clearly define your effect or outcome that you don’t like. This could be a quality issue, not meeting metrics or troubleshooting the introduction of a new process or product line. This becomes the “head” of the diagram. Use butchers paper or a whiteboard to sketch out out the fishbones template.

Defining an effect takes a little practice. Make sure it is brief and succinct. Use facts and numbers where possible. Spend a few minutes reflecting on your effect with the team; does everyone agree that the statement defines the problem as fully as possible?

Brainstorming the “Causes”

With your team, we want to add the bones to this diagram, brainstorming all of the possible influencing factors. Each idea needs to be put into a category or branch.

In manufacturing, it is accepted that there are 6 main branches that need investigation. These are often described as the “6M’s” but feel free to use the terms that best suit your company.

  • People / Manpower: Everyone involved with the process across the value stream, including support functions
  • Processes / Methods: This defines how the process is performed and the all requirements needed for doing it, including quality procedures, work orders / travellers / work instructions, drawings.
  • Machines / Equipment: All machines and equipment, needed to accomplish the job, including tools
  • Materials: Raw materials, purchased parts and subassemblies that feed into the end product
  • Measurements: defines how have we determined that the outcome is wrong
  • Environment: The conditions that influence the process including time, temperature, humidity or cleanliness

problem solving techniques fishbone diagram

As the team suggests possible causes, determine which heading that idea belongs under, jotting it down clearly. Also add another branch, covering “why” that cause would influence the effect we are investigating. Continue until the team runs out of ideas.

If you find there are branches of the diagram that are missing, delve into that area further, asking questions; “Is it possible that the environment has affected our problem” too hot, too cold, too wet?

When you are out of ideas, take a break to clear everyone’s head. Here we change modes and needs a little time for our brains to shift gears. Now we don’t need any new ideas, we need to determine the top 2 or 3 possible causes that can be resolved and will have the most impact of the effect. You can use an A3 plan  to outline the current state, future state and the steps needed to achieve it.

If the top few causes are not clear, determine what further information is needed. While using a fishbone diagram does take time to develop, it will help you and your team to determine the real causes and allow you to improve your process and implement lasting change.

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Continuous improvement is at the heart of what we do at TXM. We have a proven track record of helping our customers achieve sustained superior operational performance. One of the tools we use to help our clients achieve this is the fishbone diagram. Also known as a Cause and Effect Diagram, the Fishbone Diagram is a valuable tool for identifying the root causes of problems. By identifying and addressing the root causes of problems, our clients are able to achieve significant improvements in their operations. If you are facing operational challenges, we encourage you to contact us to learn more about how we can help you using fishbone diagrams and other Lean tools. Continuous improvement is essential for achieving Operational Excellence, and TXM is here to help you every step of the way.

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Fishbone Diagrams for Consequential Problem-Solving


Visualize Processes and Improve

The most successful businesses are not perfect. They are resilient. Every business encounters problems; most encounter them frequently. The ones that thrive are developing a problem-solving culture and arm employees with the tools to find and resolve the root causes of issues effectively. When employees are effective, empowered problem-solvers, obstacles turn into opportunities. One powerful problem-solving tool is the Fishbone Diagram.

Fishbone 3

What is a Fishbone Diagram?

A Fishbone Diagram also called an Ishikawa diagram or cause and effect diagram is a visual management tool used to document all the potential causes of a problem to uncover the root causes. The Fishbone Diagram helps users group these causes into categories and provides a structure to display them. When used effectively, it ensures that teams address the actual cause of the problem and don’t just implement a Band-aid solution.

The Fishbone Diagram is called such due to its resemblance to a fish’s skeleton. It was developed by Kaoru Ishikawa and became popular in the 1960s. It is used within many modern quality management methodologies, including Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing. 

When to Use a Fishbone Diagram

Although we refer to the Fishbone Diagram as a structured problem-solving tool, it has other uses. It is helpful in breaking down the contributors to any process or system. Some ways to use it to test a problem statement, conduct root cause analysis, predict the results of a new process, streamline an existing process, improve quality outcomes, and uncover bottlenecks. 

How to Use a Fishbone Diagram

Fishbone Diagram - Define the Problem

Step 1: Define the Problem

The first step in problem-solving, whether you use the Fishbone or not, is defining the problem correctly. Ideally, the problem statement will include an objective metric that can be used to determine success. For example, a problem statement such as, “The contact center abandon rate is too high,” will not be as helpful as a statement like, “The contact center abandon rate increased by 20% last month.”

In terms of the Diagram, the problem statement represents the “head” of the fish.

Keep in mind:

  • If you are using a fishbone diagram to improve a process, instead of the problem, you will define your desired outcome in an objective and achievable way.
  • Each of the “bones” in the diagram will represent a category of potential causes, but causes with the most significant impact should be closest to the “head.”

Step 2: Decide on Categories of Causes

The Fishbone tool forces you to think about the potential causes for the problem in several categories represented by the bones. The number will depend on the type and complexity of the problem. You can choose categories that make sense for your project, but in manufacturing, the 6 Ms are often used. They include:

  • Man - the people involved in the process
  • Methods - the Standard Work by which the process is performed
  • Machines - the equipment and tools needed for the process
  • Materials - the raw inputs, parts, consumables, and so forth
  • Measurements - the data that is used to evaluate process results
  • Mother Nature (Environment) - the conditions under which the process is performed.

Another commonly used structure is the McKinsey 7S Framework, which includes Strategy, Structure, Systems, Shared Values, Skills, Style, and Staff. Marketers may go with the 4Ps of Marketing; Product, Place, Price, and Promotion. Non-manufacturing process may include additional categories such as:

In our software call center abandon rate example, we’ll choose the categories of :

  • Measurement
  • Environment

Fishbone Diagram - Causes and Roots

Step 3: Brainstorm Potential Causes and Identify Roots

Now that the categories are defined, the team can go through each one and try to determine all the individual influences that can affect our results. Look at each type and list everything that falls within it. If a potential cause sounds more like a symptom than the root of the matter, the 5 Whys technique can be used to ensure that bottom-line reasons are included. If a source cause supersedes a potential cause, it can be removed from the diagram, or you can use strikethrough to preserve it while moving on to the fundamental problem. In this example, I’ve struck through “Low morale” as a potential cause because it is most likely a symptom of the lack of training and scheduling problems.

Step 4: Analyze the Diagram and Determine Next Steps

The Fishbone Diagram does not direct you to the solution, but it gives you an idea about where to look. By identifying potential causes in this manner, the team can assess the impact of each and brainstorm possible solutions. As in the case of our example, you’ll probably find more opportunities for improvement than you can tackle at once, but the exercise will put the team in a better position to decide what to do next. The Fishbone Diagram also becomes a good starting point for the next improvement cycle once your most critical root causes are addressed.

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The benefits of digital fishbone diagrams.

Back in the 1960s when the Fishbone Diagram was introduced, teams used paper to visualize their problem statement and possible causes. While that approach is acceptable for small groups working in the same space for a short period, it is not ideal for the way people work today.

That’s why KaiNexus has incorporated Fishbone Diagrams into our continuous improvement software platform. 

  • The Fishbone Diagram is created and managed in the same platform you will use for implementing the changes once the analysis is complete.
  • Information about your problem, the potential causes, and possible solutions are all collected for future review.
  • Remote teams can be as effective as in-person ones.
  • Roles and permissions can be applied to determine who can add access and edit Fishbones.
  • Fishbone Diagrams can be used for Items, Projects, Improvements, Incidents, Tasks, and Charts. 
  • Set up to 6 custom categories per diagram or reuse existing categories
  • Highlight or strikethrough items

Using digital Fishbone Diagrams that are integrated with your improvement management software will help your team solve problems faster and accelerate the pace of positive change.

Fishbone Diagram Tips

The Fishbone diagram approach is not complicated, but you can do a few things to get the most out of it. We recommend:

  • Use category names that are meaningful for your business. If “Methods” isn’t quite right, maybe “Procedures” is a better fit, for example.
  • Don’t overload the categories. Create a new one if necessary. Likewise, don’t overcomplicate it; there’s no need to use six categories if four will do.
  • Be careful not to add causes that are actually solutions.
  • Prioritize your causes by keeping the most impactful ones closest to the “head”
  • Use Fishbone Diagrams along with, not instead of, other problem-solving techniques such as The 5 Whys, A3s, process maps, and control charts.

KaiNexus is delighted to put one more digital improvement tool in the hands of our customers. If you’d like to know more about the impact of KaiNexus, one of our experts is available to help.

Fishbone Diagram - Categories

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Fishbone diagrams: How to use them for problem-solving

October 5, 2023 by MindManager Blog

When something goes wrong, it’s essential to understand the root cause in order to prevent it from occurring again.

However, life and business are both complex, making it difficult to identify at times the underlying causes which created the situation you’re facing now. That’s where and when a fishbone diagram can help!

In this article, we’ll dive into everything you need to know about fishbone diagrams and how to use them for problem-solving.

What is a fishbone diagram?

Fishbone diagrams (also called Ishikawa diagrams and cause-and-effect diagrams) are visualizations used to identify and illustrate the causes for a specific event. Potential causes are often brainstormed and then categorized in order to identify a problem’s root cause.

The diagram gets its name due to the branches radiating out from the main issue in a way that resembles a side view of a fish skeleton. However, the process can be applied to most mind map layouts.

Here’s a fishbone diagram example:

Sample Fishbone Diagram

When to use fishbone diagrams

Fishbone diagrams help focus you and your team’s energy on the root cause of a problem instead of merely addressing and wasting time on the symptoms.

Here are a few common applications of Fishbone diagrams:

Manufacturing: Discover the root cause of a manufacturing issue by brainstorming and ranking the likelihood and impact of all the areas that influence the production process.

MindManager Fishbone Diagram 1

How to create a fishbone diagram in MindManager in 5 steps

Fishbone diagrams are quick to make in MindManager and the examples above are included as templates to make it even easier.

MindManager’s ease of capturing ideas during brainstorming makes it the ideal tool to capture and organize potential causes. The visual format allows you to see all the causes simultaneously, draw relationships between causes, and identify if the root cause is found multiple times within the diagram.

Here’s how to create a fishbone diagram:

  • In MindManager, go to the File menu, select New and then click into the Problem-Solving folder. There you’ll find three templates for Fishbones, the manufacturing, service, and product analyses. Select a template.
  • Enter the issue in the central topic.
  • Next, either brainstorm potential causes and add them as floating topics initially and categorize them after the brainstorming session. Or, use each category as a guide for a mini-brainstorm session and enter the potential causes directly in the appropriate branch.
  • Add more details to your causes as new subtopics or notes with the cause itself.
  • Once all the potential causes have been identified, you can take the diagram a step further and rank each cause. One way to do this would be to use the Priority marker to rank the cause between 1 and 9. You can later filter the diagram and view specific priorities and hide the less important ones that will distract the focus of the team.

Key MindManager features for fishbone diagrams

There is no one single ‘right’ way to create, categorize, or rank items within a fishbone diagram.

With that said, here’s a list of ways to apply some of MindManager’s features to transform an ordinary diagram into a powerful application to visualize and empower your work.

  • Use color (fonts, topic fill color) to categorize different causes.
  • Change the font characteristics to emphasize different causes (e.g. bold, larger fonts, different font types, etc.).
  • Use topic images to add greater context and enhance the visualizations.
  • Write topic notes for more in-depth details related to each cause.
  • Apply icons and tags to categorize causes.
  • Hyperlink or add attachments to provide more details.
  • Draw relationship lines between different connected causes throughout the diagram.
  • Assign resources to any causes that you have identified. This may clarify who is responsible or accountable for that cause.
  • Collapse branches for a quick overview or drill down into all the details.
  • View the diagram through multiple lenses. For instance, you are not confined to the layout of the Fishbone diagram. Switch views to see the diagram as an outline, or dive in the Schedule, Icon or Tag views to see your content in groupings based on your assigned categories or due dates.
  • Filter content to either show or hide topics that you have annotated with tags or icon markers. For instance, filter on all the top priority potential causes that need additional investigation.
  • Share your diagram by either publishing it onto the web (and sharing a link) where anyone can open and view the Fishbone diagram interactively in their browser or export the diagram into a variety of different formats (e.g. Microsoft Word, HTML5, Microsoft Project, etc.).

Download MindManager today to get started on your fishbone diagram!

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How to Use a Fishbone Diagram to Uncover and Solve Problems?

Fishbone diagram is a causal diagram that visually represents the different factors that caused a problem to occur. The tool is designed to help both identify the causes of a problem and propose actions.

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The fishbone diagram, also known as the cause-and-effect diagram, is a causal graphic representation of potential causes of a given problem or defect. The tool is also famous as the Ishikawa diagram by the name of its creator Kaoru Ishikawa. The diagrams are used to identify causal factors as sources of variation. By grouping those factors, Ishikawa diagrams allow classifying multiple sources of variation into categories and help to narrow down a problem’s root cause. The technique is widely applied to prevent quality defects.     The diagram itself takes the shape of a fishbone where the defect is represented as the head of the fish and the bones represent the major identified root causes. Sub-causes are shown as the ribs of the fish.    The quality control tool is ideal to visually represent the output from brainstorming sessions where root causes are identified by analysis teams. All root causes and their causal factors are easily represented and available at a glance. A potential drawback of fishbone diagrams is that the visualization of complex problems with multiple causes and sub-causes makes it hard to interpret the relationship between them. 

What Is the Purpose of Using a Fishbone Diagram? 

Employing fishbone diagrams aims to help identify defects’ causal factors and prevent their further occurrence. The diagrams help teams visualize their ideas of potential defects’ root causes and causal factors. The graphical technique is especially helpful to troubleshoot quality-related issues and it is considered one of the seven basic quality control tools. Some of the areas where fishbone diagrams are widely used include product development, manufacturing, customer service, document management, healthcare, troubleshooting, etc. The visualization technique can be effective for overall process improvement. 

Where to Use a Fishbone Diagram? 

Fishbone diagrams are easily drawn and can be adopted by multiple teams and industries to facilitate the identification of defects’ root causes and effects. Some of their practical applications are listed below. 

  • Fishbone diagram in manufacturing . The technique’s application in manufacturing helps in causal analysis of a problem. It is extremely helpful as a brainstorming tool when there’s not enough data to support problem-solving efforts. 
  • Fishbone diagram in healthcare . Fishbone diagrams are applicable in the medical field for the identification of various inefficiencies such as delays in diagnosis or diagnostic errors. 
  • Fishbone diagram in labs . Cause-and-effect diagrams are used to determine the root cause of laboratory issues such as incorrect test results or inefficient laboratory data management. 

Can Fishbone be Used in Problem Solving? 

Yes, through the identification of major causes, contributing factors, and their analysis, the Ishikawa diagrams support problem-solving. The tool is adopted in the analysis phase of the Six Sigma approach to problem resolution and it is one of the techniques for root cause analysis. By answering questions related to the root cause of an event or the factors causing the most variability in a system, the diagrams help to narrow down teams’ problem-solving efforts. 

What Are the Advantages of the Fishbone Diagram? 

Fishbone diagrams bring benefits to process improvement as well as problem-solving thanks to their visual comprehensiveness. Here are a few of the underlined advantages the tool has to offer. 

  • Fishbone diagram helps to visually represent a problem statement, its major causes and supporting sub-causes. 
  • The diagram supports brainstorming ideas by visually representing them in a single hub. 
  • The graphical tool offers a view into the state of a problem available to team members and stakeholders alike. 

What Are the Limitations of the Fishbone Diagram? 

Unfortunately, some of the fishbone diagram’s most obvious advantages can turn into challenges if not used correctly. Some of Ishikawa diagram’s limitations are listed below. 

  • Devising complex issues with multiple causes and sub-causes can lead to an overcrowded and cumbersome diagram. 
  • Brainstorming sessions can sometimes bring multiple irrelevant potential causes and factors that may turn into a waste of time. 
  • Relationships between multiple causes and factors can sometimes be difficult to identify. 

What Are the 6Ms in the Fishbone Diagram Used in Manufacturing? 

At the heart of the Lean production method lies the elimination of waste and the aim to reduce turnaround times. Originating from the Toyota Production System, Lean manufacturing puts an emphasis on continuous improvement while eliminating wasteful activities from the process. Thanks to its comprehensiveness and visual appeal, the Fishbone diagram is widely used to identify quality-related issues and as a means to achieve continuous process improvement.    To navigate the process of defects’ identification, the Ishikawa diagram technique employs one of the widely used frameworks to root cause analysis - 6Ms. The method helps to determine the sources of variations in a process and to reach a problem’s root cause. The components of the 6Ms framework in manufacturing are listed below.  

  • Manpower: Refers to the physical or mind/knowledge work of personnel. 
  • Method: Refers to the production process. 
  • Machine: Refers to all the equipment, tools, and facilities used for the production. 
  • Material: Refers to the raw materials used for the production of a final product. 
  • Medium (Environment): Refers to the effect of unpredictable environmental factors such as weather, floods, humidity, etc. 
  • Measurement: Refers to inspections and physical measurements such as volume or temperature, etc. 

How to Create a Fishbone Diagram? 

Creating a fishbone diagram offers possibilities to uncover a problem’s root cause, hidden relationships between causes and effects, as well as process bottlenecks and areas for improvement. The steps to creating a fishbone diagram are explained below. 

  • Determine a problem statement:  The responsible team members and stakeholders should identify and agree on a statement that describes the problem. The statement is drawn at the head of the diagram (fishbone skeleton). A horizontal arrow pointing to the head is drawn across the page (the fish backbone). 
  • Brainstorm major causes:  Problem’s causes are grouped into categories such as manpower, method, machine, material, medium, measurement (using the 6Ms framework to root cause analysis) to facilitate the brainstorming session. The categories are drawn as the fish’s bones with arrows pointing to its backbone. 
  • Brainstorm all possible causes:  Using methods to root cause analysis such as 5Whys, the analysis team should find contributing causes to each major cause category. These are represented as branches of the fish’s bones on the diagram. The layered bones which are produced as a result of identifying sub-causes show the causal relationships. 
  • Analyze the diagram: The team analyses all major and contributing causes by asking why-questions. In case the root cause of the stated problem is still not identified, the focus shifts to areas of the diagram with fewer ideas and the brainstorming continues. 

What Tools do You Need to Create a Fishbone Diagram? 

Creating fishbone diagrams is possible through a wide variety of tools on the market -  you can use Excel, Word, PowerPoint, or more advanced graphic design software. You can start, however, with a simple whiteboard and post-it notes for your categories of causes. 

Is there any Fishbone Diagram Creator? 

Yes, you can use a wide range of online software solutions to create a cause-and-effect diagram to root cause analysis. Among the most prominent fishbone diagram creators are Canva, Figma, Edraw Max, XMind, Miro, and others. 

What Is a Fishbone Diagram Template? 

An easy way to begin the root cause analysis is with a fishbone diagram template. It includes graphical elements where problem statements, major cause categories, and sub-causes should be indicated. The diagram also uses arrows as a means to show the cause and effect between different elements including their relationship to the problematic event. The fishbone diagram template is easily customizable and can be used as a problem-solving technique in any context and industry.   

fishbone diagram template

What Are the Examples of Fishbone Diagram? 

An example of a fishbone diagram application is its use for investigating accidents at the workplace. The brainstorming of potential causes from various team members’ perspectives is an essential asset for the analysis of the situation. The approach allows the uncovering of the true cause of the accident but also encourages improvement efforts and navigates the corrective action plan.    Manufacturing also uses the Ishikawa diagram to investigate problematic events. In the example diagram below, an assembly line production process is found to be inefficient. The analysis team has agreed upon the problematic statement, the major involved categories of causes have been also determined using the 6Ms framework and potential causes have been identified through brainstorming. All the elements have been mapped at the designated place on the diagram. 

fishbone diagram

What Is the History of the Fishbone Diagram? 

Fishbone diagrams were first used for identifying cause-and-effect relationships in the 1920s. Along with the check sheet, control chart, histogram, Pareto chart, scatter diagram and stratification, they are considered one of the seven basic quality control tools. Thanks to Mr. Kaoru Ishikawa, the diagram became popular in the 1960s as a tool in the quality management processes at Kawasaki shipyards.  

What Is the Relationship Between Root Cause Analysis and Fishbone Diagram? 

Fishbone diagrams are part of the toolset for  root cause analysis . Causal graphs are used to map key events or causes of specific problems or defects. Thanks to its visualization nature, the fishbone diagram makes it easier to understand the relationships between a variety of causes. The tool can be used in reactive management to identify and address problems quickly, as well as in preventative management since it draws attention to additional causal factors. 

How Do You Use a Fishbone Diagram and 5 Whys Together? 

The 5 Whys technique is among the most effective methods for identifying the root causes of a problem. It can also be applied to a wide range of problems. To identify the root cause of a defect, the analysis team asks why-questions while brainstorming causes and sub-causes. Fishbone diagrams and 5 Whys can be used individually or together as both can help identify the core of an issue as well as its effect. Allowing to understand the cause and effect relationship, the tools help to quickly identify and react to root causes and additional factors. This improves teams’ work efficiency and nurtures strive for improvement. 

What Are the Similarities and Differences Between 5 Whys and Fishbone Diagram? 

Originating from the Lean philosophy, both techniques support the process of problem’s root cause and effect identification. The methods can complement each other by helping detect the major causes of a defect as well as identifying the cause and effect relationships between a variety of factors. While the  5 Whys technique helps during brainstorming sessions to narrow down the underlined fault’s cause by asking repeatedly the question “why this happen?”, the fishbone graph offers organization of all causes as well as visualization of their connection to one another. 

What Are the Other Tools to Increase Work Efficiency Similar to Fishbone Diagram? 

The Lean philosophy made the appearance of a range of tools that support not only problem-solving and decision-making but also workflow efficiency and process improvement.  Some of the techniques such as Fishbone diagrams which directly impact workflow efficiency are listed below. 

  • 5 Whys analysis 
  • Value-steam mapping  
  • Failure Mode and Effects (FMEA) Analysis

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How to Use the Fishbone Diagram in Root Cause Analysis?

Solving problems is considered an initial part of designers’ practice as they aim for user-centred design. The target that requires root-cause analysis of problems using tools such as the Fishbone diagram. A clear definition for the problem should be highlighted in order to target the proper solution, including analysing the causes behind this problem and its impact on the business. Tools such as TRIZ , SCAMPER Technique and Fishbone Diagram are commonly used to allow exploring a specific problem before providing the proper solution.

Related Articles:

What is the 8D Problem Solving? And How to use the 8D Report?

Using the TRIZ Method for Creative Problem Solving

Problem Solving Using Hurson’s Production Thinking Model

What is the Fishbone Diagram?

The Fishbone diagram (also known as the root-cause analysis and Ishikawa diagram) is used to identify the root causes of problems by identifying the different factors that may cause the problem. Based on the results, the team can build an effective solution to eliminating the problem.

The term, Fishbone Diagram, was first coined by professor Kaoru Ishikawa in his book “Introduction to Quality Control,” published in 1990. The diagram is also known as the Ishikawa Diagram, Cause and Effect Diagram, and Herringbone Diagram.

The Cause and Effect Diagram can be implemented during the  development brainstorming session  to discover the roots of a specific problem or identify the bottleneck in a particular process by categorising the causes of problems into six main types: people, methods, machines, materials, measurements, and environment. The categorisation of the cause of a problem varies based on the industry, such as the following:

– Manufacturing industry (5 Ms) : Machine, Method, Material, Man Power, and Measurement

– Marketing industry (7 Ps) : Product, Price, Place, Promotion, People, Process, and Physical Evidence

– Service industry (5 Ss) : Surrounding, Suppliers, Systems, Skills, and Safety

The name Fishbone Diagram comes from the final shape of the diagram after analysing the problem because the structure looks like a fishbone, which is built gradually from right to left during the problem-solving session. The diagram starts with two main sections; Cause on the left and Effect on the right (video 1). 

Video 1. Definition of the Fishbone Diagram.

Then, the possible causes of the problem are explored by creating branches from the line that link between cause and effect sections, as we will explore in the following example. While this diagram looks similar to other creative thinking methods, such as  mind maps  and  starbursting , it focuses on solving problems rather than exploring ideas.

Using the Fishbone Diagram Example

To understand how the Cause-Effect Diagram works, we will explore an example of a problem and see how to use the Fishbone Diagram to investigate a problem, which is why a design studio company always fails to reach an innovative product or service.

Step 1: Identify the problem (Effect)

The effect, or problem, results from one or multiple causes. Therefore, the problem should be clearly addressed to investigate the related causes. In the Design Studio example, we start by writing the Effect (Lack of Creativity) or the problem on the right side, as shown in the figure below.

Cause effect diagram

Step 2: Define the main causes model

Then, define the main categories of factors that can lead to the root causes of the problem. You can use any of the above highlighted three cause models. In this example, we’ll use the manufacturing industry model (5 Ms): Machine, Method, Material, Man Power, and Measurement.

Fishbone Diagram

Step 3: Investigate possible causes of the problem

After drawing the main general categories, where we can add causes, the discussion starts to investigate all the possible causes for the problem and organize them under the five categories. For example, under Man Power, causes can be a lack of motivation, lack of skills, under-evaluated skills, hiring inappropriate skills, or fixed working hours.

Ishikawa Diagram

Step 4: Analyse the findings

Once the diagram is complete, and causes are organized in the model, the next step is to investigate and discuss each possible cause and rank them based on their priority and influence on the problem. Understanding the different causes may include using research methods such as interviews, focus groups, and surveys.

The below video provides another example of how to use the Fishbone Diagram in identifying the root causes of problems.

Video 2. Example of how to apply the Ishikawa Diagram in identifying the root-causes of problems.

Further resources:

Solve It!: The Mindset and Tools of Smart Problem Solvers

Root Cause Analysis Handbook: A Guide to Efficient and Effective Incident Investigation

When it comes to problems, both designers and managers can fail to find the solution, and part of this failur

e is their inability to find the correct causes of problems. Many methods to achieve this goal, such as the Fishbone Diagram, investigate the relationship between the effect of the problem and its possible causes. In this tool, the causes are categorised and organised in the diagram to build a better understanding of how these causes contribute to the final problem and to order causes based on their priority as a means of addressing the problem in the final solution plan.

Article cover copyrights: Image by storyset on Freepik

The steps to apply the Fishbone Diagram

– Manufacturing industry (5 Ms) : Machine, Method, Material, Man Power, and Measurement – Marketing industry (7 Ps) : Product, Price, Place, Promotion, People, Process, and Physical Evidence – Service industry (5 Ss) : Surrounding, Suppliers, Systems, Skills, and Safety

Dr Rafiq Elmansy

I'm an academic, author and design thinker, currently teaching design at the University of Leeds with a research focus on design thinking, design for health, interaction design and design for behaviour change. I developed and taught design programmes at Wrexham Glyndwr University, Northumbria University and The American University in Cairo. Additionally, I'm a published book author and founder of Designorate.com. I am a fellow for the Higher Education Academy (HEA), the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA), and an Adobe Education Leader. I write Adobe certification exams with Pearson Certiport. My design experience involves 20 years working with clients such as the UN, World Bank, Adobe, and Schneider. I worked with the Adobe team in developing many Adobe applications for more than 12 years.

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2 thoughts on “ How to Use the Fishbone Diagram in Root Cause Analysis? ”

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Is there a tool with which I can create such a cause-effect diagram easily?

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I’m sorry for the late reply as I was busy with my research. You can use online brainstorming tools such as Mural or Miro. It allows you to create the fish bone shape there.

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