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What is a Fishbone Diagram? Implementation and Benefits

A fishbone diagram is a visualization technique used in business to pinpoint and look into all of the potential reasons behind a specific event, problem, or result. Cause-and-effect diagrams and Ishikawa diagrams are other names for fishbone diagrams, the latter of which honors the diagram’s original designer, the Japanese organizational theorist Kaoru Ishikawa.

Because they offer a methodical framework for investigating all potential causes of a problem, not just the most obvious ones, fishbone diagrams are an important tool for root cause analysis (RCA).

What is a Fishbone Diagram?

A fishbone diagram, also known as a cause-and-effect diagram or an Ishikawa diagram, is an effective tool for locating a problem’s underlying causes. It enables you to make a comprehensive list of all the possible root causes that might be influencing the effect you are currently experiencing. This tool, whose name comes from the fact that it resembles a fishbone, is frequently employed in brainstorming sessions.

A fishbone diagram is made by grouping potential reasons into various cause groups on the left side. The fish’s “bones” are made up of these. You put the “head” of the effect or issue you are looking into on the right side. This framework offers a quick and simple method for visualizing the numerous factors connected to the impact.

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Types of Fishbone Diagrams

Fishbone diagrams come in a few broad categories, each with special characteristics and suitable applications. Examine the many varieties to determine which one best suits your requirements.

The Simple Fishbone

The straightforward fishbone is the fishbone diagram that is utilized the most. You are allowed to use whatever labels or categories make the most sense for your situation because this form of diagram does not have predetermined categories. Any field or function can benefit from using straightforward fishbone diagrams.

The 4S Fishbone

Systems, surrounds, skills, and suppliers are the four “bones” that branch off from the spine in a 4S fishbone design. Popular in the service sector, the 4S fishbone can be used to address issues like low customer satisfaction or high customer churn.

The 8P Fishbone

Physical evidence, personnel, place, product (service), pricing, promotion, process, and productivity/quality are the eight categories into which the 8P technique divides potential sources of a problem. The 8P fishbone is frequently employed to address issues in the administrative, manufacturing, and service sectors.

The Man Machines Materials Fishbone

The human materials machines Another fishbone diagram with predetermined categories is the fishbone diagram. Manufacturing is where this kind of diagram is most commonly utilized. It was created to assist individuals in focusing on different causes rather than instantly attributing problems to human error.

Elements of a Fishbone Diagram

Fishbone diagrams are formed like fish, or more precisely like the skeletons of fish, as their name implies. A portion of the cause-and-effect scenario you’re investigating is represented by the components of the fish.

  • Head: The problem or result you’re analyzing is recorded in the fish’s head.
  • Backbone: The backbone’s straight line only serves as a connection point for the other bones to the head or primary issue.
  • Bones: The bones stand in for all the potential root reasons that could result in the primary issue. There are often a few primary categories of causes in fishbone diagrams, with subcategories branching off of each.
What is a Fishbone Diagram
What is a Fishbone Diagram?

What Distinguishes an Ishikawa Diagram from a Herringbone or Fishbone Diagram?

Herringbone diagrams, cause-and-effect diagrams, and Ishikawa diagrams are a few names for fishbone diagrams that are frequently used interchangeably.

All of these terms refer to the same technique to problem-solving that models potential root causes of issues and troubleshoots fixes using a fish-shaped diagram.

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Which Industries Use Fishbone Diagrams?

The domains of quality management are where fishbone diagrams—also known as herringbone diagrams, cause-and-effect diagrams, and Ishikawa diagrams—are most frequently used. They are frequently employed in the fields of nursing and healthcare, as well as in brainstorming exercises for students.

How to Draw a Fishbone Diagram

  1. Initialize using a problem statement.

The effect or issue you are researching is a problem statement, which is placed in a box with an arrow pointing to it on the right side of a flipchart page, resembling the head of a fish. On how to define the issue, the entire team is in agreement.

2. List the categories of key causes.

The major cause categories you connect to the backbone to create the fishbone diagram’s skeleton. Engage in a brainstorming session with your team to identify these categories. Depending on your industry and the issue you’re trying to solve, you may establish fewer categories. For instance, if you operate in manufacturing, your key cause categories might include personnel/people, tools and machines, steps and processes, supplies, outside variables, and measurement techniques.

3. List potential causes.

Consider possible reasons now that you have your key cause categories in place. You can brainstorm ideas using the categories, or you can simply brainstorm as many reasons as you can as a group.

4. Classify the causes.

Examine your list of potential causes, and then put each one to the relevant category on your diagram. These factors turn into the ribs that connect the categories to the backbone in your diagram.

5. Look for related reasons.

Go deeper by posing pertinent questions, such as “Why does this happen?” for each cause you pinpoint. On the diagram, this results in layers of branches or “bones”.

6. Identify the root causes.

Finding the primary causes of the effect or problem in the problem statement is the last stage. Examine the factors that come up most frequently and in various categories to achieve this.

Note: Make sure your fish is not very “bony”! Long explanations or too many little bones can be confusing and distracting, which would defeat the whole point of the practice.

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The Benefits and Drawbacks of Fishbone Diagrams

Fishbone diagrams have benefits and drawbacks.


  • Excellent tool for mind mapping and brainstorming, whether used alone or in a group project.
  • Can make the connections between variables clearer and aid in determining causal linkages.
  • Asking “why” questions repeatedly gets to the heart of situations and elegantly simplifies even complex ones.


  • Can result in inaccurate or inconsistent findings if the wrong root cause assumptions are made or the inappropriate variables are given priority.
  • Fishbone diagrams work best with short sentences or straightforward concepts because they have a tendency to become cluttered and confused.
  • Since they can only give suggestions rather than actual solutions, they are most effective during the exploratory inquiry stage.

Examples of when to Use a Fishbone Diagram

Fishbone diagrams are an effective tool for problem-solving, especially when dealing with complex issues and issues that may have multiple root causes.

Read through these examples of fishbone diagrams if you’re still unsure of when to utilize one to aid in problem-solving.

  1. Product Creation

Fishbone diagrams are helpful in product development projects for examining market prospects and detecting problems with existing market offerings. Use a fishbone diagram to carefully examine the challenges and causes of your target consumers’ concerns to make sure your new items are actually filling a market gap.

2. Processes for Troubleshooting

Fishbone diagrams can assist you in identifying the problems when a process or workflow isn’t yielding the desired results. Finding the best remedies is much simpler when you thoroughly investigate probable causes.

3. Root cause investigation

Fishbone diagrams give root cause analysis and investigation a visual framework. RCA technique goes beyond simply treating immediate symptoms and putting out fires to investigate the root causes of problems that arise.

Examples of Fishbone Diagrams

The use of fishbone diagrams is widespread in both academic and professional contexts. They are particularly well-liked in nursing environments or during group brainstorming study sessions in the healthcare industry. They are frequently employed by professionals in quality assurance or human resources in the corporate world.

What is a Fishbone Diagram
An example of a fishbone diagram on production.
What is a Fishbone Diagram
Fishbone Diagram Example on the cause of recurring iron contamination.

A production team created this fishbone diagram to try and identify the cause of recurring iron contamination. The six general headings were used by the team to generate ideas. Layers of branches demonstrate careful consideration of the issue’s root causes.

For instance, the concept of “materials of construction” under the category “Machines” is represented by four different types of equipment, followed by numerous different machine numbers.

Be aware that certain concepts can be found twice. Both under “Methods” as a component of the analytical process and under “Measurement” as a source of lab error, “Calibration” is listed. When gathering samples or hiring maintenance staff, “Iron tools” can be seen as a “Methods” or “Manpower” issue.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I use a fishbone diagram?

A cause and effect diagram, sometimes known as a "fishbone" diagram, can be helpful for categorizing thoughts and brainstorming potential causes of a problem. An effective visual representation of cause and consequence is a fishbone diagram.

What are the fishbone diagram’s six components?

These contributing components are referred to by Ishikawa as the "6 Ms" of manufacturing: man, machine, method, material, measurement, and Mother Nature. These six Ms, which make up the first six "bones" of your fishbone, have an impact on variation in all processes.

The fishbone diagram was made by whom?

Kaoru Ishikawa, a pioneer of quality management systems in Japan in the 1960s, created the Ishikawa diagram. One of the seven fundamental instruments of quality control is the diagram. Due to its design, it is also known as a fishbone diagram.

What is the 5 Whys fishbone diagram?

The "last 10 patients" chart audit and fall-out analysis are two methods that can be employed after using the five whys and fishbone diagrams. Asking and responding to the question "Why?" five times, or as many times as necessary to reach the "root cause" or end of the causal chain, is known as the "5 Whys" method.



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