Guide to understanding fishbone diagrams

What is a fishbone diagram?

A fishbone diagram is a visualization tool used in business to identify and investigate the many possible causes of a particular event, issue, or outcome. Fishbone diagrams are also known as cause and effect diagrams or Ishikawa diagrams, the latter named for the diagram's original creator, Japanese organizational theorist Kaoru Ishikawa.

Fishbone diagrams are a valuable tool for root cause analysis (RCA), as they provide a systematic framework for exploring all possible causes of a problem, not just the most obvious ones.

Fishbone diagram elements

As the name implies, fishbone diagrams are shaped like fish—or, rather, fish skeletons. The parts of the fish represent certain parts of the cause-and-effect scenario you're exploring.

  • Head: The head of the fish is where you record the problem or outcome you're analyzing.
  • Backbone: The straight line of the backbone simply provides a way to connect all the other bones to the head or main problem.
  • Bones: The bones represent all the various causes that could be leading to the main problem. In most fishbone diagrams, there are a few main categories of causes with specific details branching off each.

Types of fishbone diagrams

There are a few main types of fishbone diagrams, each with unique features and ideal use cases. Review the different types, and choose which one is the best fit for your needs.

The simple fishbone

The most commonly used fishbone diagram is the simple fishbone. This type of diagram does not have predefined categories, so you are free to use whatever categories or labels make the most sense for your scenario. Simple fishbone diagrams can be used in any industry or function.

The 4S fishbone

On a 4S fishbone diagram, the four "bones" branching off from the spine are systems, surroundings, skills, and suppliers. The 4S fishbone is popular in the service industry and can be used to solve problems like poor customer feedback or high customer churn.

The 8P fishbone

The 8P method is a problem-solving method that classifies possible causes of a problem into eight groups: physical evidence, personnel, place, product (service), price, promotion, process, and productivity/quality. The 8P fishbone is commonly used to solve problems within the service industry, manufacturing, and administrative functions.

The man machines materials fishbone

The man machines materials fishbone is another fishbone diagram with predefined categories. This type of diagram is mostly used in manufacturing. It was developed to help people focus on various causes rather than automatically blaming an issue on human error.

Examples of when to use a fishbone diagram

Fishbone diagrams are a useful tool for problem-solving, especially for tricky problems and ones that could stem from various causes.

If you're still wondering when to use a fishbone diagram to support your problem-solving activities, read these fishbone diagram examples.

Product development

In product development projects, fishbone diagrams are useful for exploring market opportunities and identifying issues with current market offerings. To ensure your new products are truly filling a gap in the market, use a fishbone diagram to thoroughly explore your target customers' problems and the causes of those problems.

Troubleshooting processes

When a process or workflow isn't producing the desired outcomes, fishbone diagrams can help you diagnose the issues. When you do a deep dive into potential causes, it becomes easier to find the right solutions.

Root cause analysis

Fishbone diagrams provide a visual framework for root cause analysis and exploration. RCA methodology involves deeply investigating the underlying issues of problems that pop up, not just treating surface-level symptoms and putting out fires.

Benefits of fishbone diagrams

Benefits of fishbone diagrams

Fishbone diagrams help you visualize and explore the underlying causes of a particular problem. Top benefits of fishbone diagrams include:

Identifying potential causes of a problem

The main benefit of a fishbone diagram is its ability to help you identify potential causes of a problem. With the different types of fishbone diagrams available, there is a layout to fit any type of business problem in any industry. You can use a diagram with predefined categories or assign your own categories to fit your needs.

Revealing areas of weakness or bottlenecks in current processes

With a fishbone diagram, you can ensure no stone remains unturned as you study the problem. As you explore potential causes, the fishbone diagram will reveal any areas of weakness or bottlenecks in your current processes. You'll be able to address these issues, and any other root causes you uncover along the way.

Accelerating problem-solving

Most people are visual learners, and visual aids are proven to boost memory retention and recall. The visual format of the fishbone diagram accelerates the problem-solving process, helping you organize and categorize your thoughts and findings within a logical structure.

How to make a fishbone diagram

To get started making a fishbone diagram, follow these steps:

  1. Identify a problem to solve. The problem will form the "head" of your fishbone diagram. In addition to describing the problem, you can add information regarding where and when it occurred, if it was a specific event, who was involved, and the impact on your business.
  2. Choose the cause categories. Draw the "backbone" of your fishbone diagram and add lines branching from it to represent your cause categories. Refer to the types of fishbone diagrams section if you need ideas for cause categories to use.
  3. Brainstorm potential causes. Write the specific cause ideas as branches off their corresponding cause categories.
  4. Delve deeper. You may need to create further branches connected to your cause branches to explore the potential root cause(s) thoroughly. When collaborating with your team, include everyone's input and ideas.
  5. Agree on a root cause. Once you've finished your fishbone diagram, discuss and agree upon a root cause. There may be more than one.
  6. Discuss solutions. After using your fishbone diagram to find your root cause, take the time to devise solutions to prevent the same problem from recurring.
Why use MindManager to make fishbone diagrams

Why use MindManager to make fishbone diagrams

With a fishbone diagram software like MindManager, problem-solving and root cause analysis is changed forever—for the better. Features of MindManager include:

  • User-friendly, intuitive interface
  • Extensive image library—over 700 topic images, icons, and symbols to add to your fishbone diagrams
  • Convenient file storage, retrieval, and sharing
  • Powerful integrations with file storage apps like Box and OneDrive
  • Google Docs integration via Zapier
  • Numerous templates, tools, and features to facilitate brainstorming and strategic planning
  • Google Chrome extension—MindManager Snap—to easily collect and import text, links, and images from the web
  • Ability to add rich data—links, images, and documents—directly to your diagrams and charts

When you use MindManager as your fishbone diagram maker, you'll be able to quickly and easily record all the information you need, collaborate closely with your team, and gain a clearer perspective on the problem at hand and its potential causes.

Fishbone diagram templates

MindManager comes pre-installed with fishbone diagram templates. To use these templates:

  • Open MindManager
  • Click NEW in the navigation menu
  • Select the template you want to use
  • A preview screen will appear - check to see if you'd like to use your selected template
  • Select 'Create Map'
  • Customize the template for your specific project

Fishbone diagram FAQs

How is a fishbone diagram used for problem-solving?

Fishbone diagrams provide a visual framework for investigating the possible causes of a problem. They help you clearly sort ideas and explore various cause-and-effect connections within your business.

What is a fishbone diagram also known as?

There are many different names for the fishbone diagram. Some of the most common include:

Conquer cause and effect with a fishbone diagram

Fishbone diagrams provide a way to visually organize and examine the potential causes relating to a particular problem. There are multiple types of fishbone diagrams, and they're popular across various industries and functions, including manufacturing, service-based industries, and business administration.

With a fishbone diagram, you can more easily identify the causes of a problem, reveal areas of weakness in current business processes, and accelerate your problem-solving activities.

Visualize more with MindManager

MindManager's fishbone diagram maker features a user-friendly interface, numerous premade templates, and an extensive library of images to support your diagram. To make a fishbone diagram, try MindManager today.

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