The Fishbone Diagram Can Take the Stink Out of Your Problem Solving

The fishbone diagram can rally your problem-solving team. Imagine your employees having focused conversations and identifying ideas to solve your most important business issues. If you are a manager or business owner, the fishbone template can help facilitate root can analysis and lasting solutions.

Also called the Ishikawa Diagram after their advocate Kaoru Ishikawa, the fishbone template has been used since the 1960's to link cause and effect in problem solving.

How do they work?

The structure of the actual diagram makes you think about all potential causes of an effect (the problem).


The format is simple. It starts with a result- usually one you don't want to continue- though it could be about something good, too. This is the head of the fish.

The bones are the structure of the analysis. Predetermined categories help guide the conversation and direct the big picture look at the problem.

There are no rules. Your categories of analysis should be relevant for your business and reflect the problem statement you are working to understand. Typical categories include:

  • People
  • Environment
  • Technology
  • Process
  • Policy


  • Man
  • Material
  • Machine
  • Method
  • Measurement

or possibly, (assume the problem statement is: "I fail to lose weight despite many repeated attempts.")

  • Activity
  • Person
  • Equipment
  • Input

Avoid the temptation to make this complicated. Do not use a computer-based template. Ideally, it is done with a sheet of paper (use a flip chart if facilitating a group), something to write with, and a brain(s). Using sticky notes can also be helpful because they provide the ability to move your thoughts around within the diagram.

Remember...with root cause analysis and the fishbone diagram, it's not the activity that is important, it's the result. If you get hung up on the mechanics, you will likely miss something in the analysis.


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