The Fishbone Diagram In A Nutshell

The Fishbone Diagram is a diagram-based technique used in brainstorming to identify potential causes for a problem, thus it is a visual representation of cause and effect. The problem or effect serves as the head of the fish. Possible causes of the problem are listed on the individual “bones” of the fish. This encourages problem-solving teams to consider a wide range of alternatives.

Understanding the Fishbone Diagram

A Fishbone Diagram is simply a visual representation of cause and effect. The problem or effect serves as the head of the fish. Possible causes of the problem are listed on the individual “bones” of the fish and where possible, are grouped into categories on each bone.

Through the use of categories, Fishbone Diagrams encourage problem-solving teams to consider a wide range of alternative, less-obvious causes. 

Cause and effect diagrams can also:

  • Help businesses understand where or why a process is not working. 
  • Be used in product development where the product concerned is intending to solve a consumer problem.
  • Identify potential problems before they arise, such as the teething problems associated with new product launches.

For example, Mazda used the Fishbone Diagram to design their now iconic MX-5 sportscar. Engineers even used the diagram to identify that the current design of the door would not allow the driver to rest their arm on it while driving.

How to use the Fishbone Diagram

Using the Fishbone Diagram in practice is relatively simple, but the technique is nevertheless a powerful way to unearth causes to problems.

Teams of employees should follow this 5-step process:

  1. Define the problem, and then write it at the mouth of the fish. The problem itself should as clear and concise as possible. Make sure there is an agreement between all team members before proceeding.
  2. Define the categories of causes, and then write them along the bones of the skeleton of the fish. Categories will vary from industry to industry, but common categories include the environment, procedure, human resourcing, and equipment.
  3. Brainstorm potential causes. Begin with the question “Why does this happen?” and then write each response as a branch of the relevant category. 
  4. Probe further. For the answers gleaned in step 3, ask the same question once more. These “sub-causes” can be written as secondary branches and are particularly important for large or complex causes that need further investigation.
  5. When the group has run out of ideas, it’s time to investigate the causes in more detail. Look for causes that appear more than once but with slightly different wording. Employee or consumer surveys can also be used to verify the validity of particular causes.

Fishbone Diagram best practices

Creative a diverse team

Although the temptation may be to create a team who has direct experience with the problem, it’s more beneficial to include other employees too. Outside employees who do not directly deal with the problem can bring a balanced, unbiased, and objective stance.

Clarify the major cause categories

In business and marketing, the 8 Ps of product marketing is a good place to start. In other words: product, price, place, promotion, personnel, process, physical evidence, and performance.

Keep it (relatively) simple

Fishbone Diagrams with many potential causes quickly become cluttered and confusing. Consider asking each member of the team to vote for their four most probable causes. From there, choose the four categories that received the most votes and begin the process.

Key takeaways

  • The Fishbone Diagram is a root cause analysis that assists in accurately identifying the causes of an effect, event, or problem.
  • The Fishbone Diagram is a collaborative and thorough five-step process involving teams of employees.
  • To be effective, the Fishbone Diagram technique requires a diverse range of perspectives and the ability to correctly identify the most likely causes.

Other root cause analyses, frameworks, and product portfolio tools

5 Whys Method

The 5 Whys method is an interrogative problem-solving technique that seeks to understand cause-and-effect relationships. At its core, the technique is used to identify the root cause of a problem by asking the question of why five times. This might unlock new ways to think about a problem and therefore devise a creative solution to solve it.

Ansoff Matrix

You can use the Ansoff Matrix as a strategic framework to understand what growth strategy is more suited based on the market context. Developed by mathematician and business manager Igor Ansoff, it assumes a growth strategy can be derived by whether the market is new or existing, and the product is new or existing.

Five Product Levels

Marketing consultant Philip Kotler developed the Five Product Levels model. He asserted that a product was not just a physical object but also something that satisfied a wide range of consumer needs. According to that Kotler identified five types of products: core product, generic product, expected product, augmented product, and potential product.

Growth-Share Matrix

In the 1970s, Bruce D. Henderson, founder of the Boston Consulting Group, came up with The Product Portfolio (aka BCG Matrix, or Growth-share Matrix), which would look at a successful business product portfolio based on potential growth and market shares. It divided products into four main categories: cash cows, pets (dogs), question marks, and stars.

Other strategy frameworks

More resources:

Published by

Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which reached over a million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get The FourWeekMBA Flagship Book "100+ Business Models"