Fishbone Diagram: A Supertool to Understand Problems, Potential Solutions, and Goals

A Fishbone Diagram is named for its looks because it resembles the bones of a fish drawn on paper. Its less creative names are Cause-and-Effect Diagram and Ishikawa Diagram. It's popularly known to help with root cause analysis. But, we can also use it to help with goals and to evaluate a potential solution.

Why is it a Supertool? Just creating its headings helps us to better define our question. Writing it out as a graphical organizer helps organize jumbled thoughts. And, when paired with a 5W2H approach and the 5-whys, it can help us dig to the root causes.

I've included some abbreviated examples of fishbone diagrams; click the thumbnail for a larger version (notice that my root causes follow the 5-whys). And, listen to the podcast (or read the transcript) to learn more about Fishbones and their construction and uses.

Fishbone for Root Causes using 6M

Fishbone for Human Factors

Fishbone for Goals

The 5W2H approach is asking ourselves this: who, what, when, where, why, how, and how much?

The 5-whys approach is asking ourselves why repeatedly until we get to the root cause: something that we can take action against and, when addressed, stops a chain of events from occurring.

Once you've had a chance to listen, I want to hear from you. Share your answers to this question in the comments section.

What fishbone headings have you used that are different from the examples I gave?

I used Lucidchart to create the examples shown. My tip for using this supertool: don't drag down the process by ​​trying to get it all lined-up pretty in software; it will stop of the flow of thoughts before you even begin. Start it with your team on paper, a virtual sketchpad, or even using sticky-notes (the real and virtual kind). You can draw it up for records later.

Other citations:
Presentation Barsalou, Matthew. “Human Factors & Root Cause Analysis.” World Conference on Quality & Improvement, ASQ, 25 May 2021.

Book Tague, Nancy R. The Quality Toolbox ASQ, 2005.

For an excerpt of Ms. Tague's Book about the fishbone diagram, see asq.org/quality-resources/fishbone

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