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:

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.

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.

Brainstorm potential causes

Begin with the question “Why does this happen?” and then write each response as a branch of the relevant category. 

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.

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.

Fishbone diagram examples

Supermarket chain

In the first example, consider a supermarket chain that wants to determine the probable causes of items that are delayed, damaged, or incorrect once delivered to its stores.

On the fishbone diagram, the team describes the main problem at the mouth of the fish.

They write the following: “Items that are incorrectly picked in the warehouse, experience delayed delivery, or are damaged in transit”.

Next, the team defines five problem cause categories and answers the question “Why does this happen?” for each:

  • Materials – improper packing material, wrong product received from warehouse or from supplier.
  • Personnelproduct mishandling, negligence, human error, a shortage of truck drivers.
  • Measurements – incorrect delivery time estimate. 
  • Environment – heat, humidity, and rain damage, poor road quality.
  • Machines – improper delivery vehicle, improper use of a forklift to unload items, faulty or unreliable inventory management system.

As per step three in the process, the team then probes further by asking the question of “Why does this happen?” once more to identify sub-causes.

For example:

  • Improper packing material – cheaper materials are used to save time and money.
  • Product mishandling – employees are not trained in the correct way to handle stock and, in any case, are not motivated to protect company property.
  • Incorrect delivery time estimate – deliveries are sent out during peak hour traffic, which frequently causes delays.
  • Heat damage – perishable items such as chocolate are not transported in trucks with refrigeration.
  • Unreliable inventory management system – old, outdated, and not upgraded due to cost constraints.

Software subscription

In the second example, let’s repeat the process with a software company that realized 55% of its users were canceling their subscription after the first month.

With the core problem identified, the team then considered the processes that were likely contributing to the issue.

Four key areas were identified, with some theoretical problem causes listed for each:

  1. Users – a lack of awareness concerning the full benefits of the software, lackluster customer support, user onboarding problems, and a tendency to not use the software consistently.
  2. Software – software is difficult to use, software is buggy or unstable, installation requires several additional plugins, and full functionality requires additional payment.
  3. Subscription system – a lack of payment options, credit card expiry dates voiding automatic renewal, a lack of reminders that payment is imminent, and a payments interface that is not user-friendly.
  4. Marketing – the absence of relationship marketing initiatives, a lack of rewards or incentives for repeat subscribers, and the ability to keep the product or service top-of-mind among consumers.

Now let’s take a look at some potential sub-causes that the team must then evaluate to determine how each affects customer retention:

  • Lackluster customer support – inadequate training of the customer support team.
  • Software usability issues – the product was rushed to market before it was ready.
  • A lack of reminders that payment is imminent – a somewhat outdated belief that businesses should not contact customers unnecessarily.
  • The absence of relationship marketing initiatives – an inexperienced marketing team that does not realize the power of relationship marketing as a tool to foster customer retention.

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

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.

Blitzscaling Canvas

The Blitzscaling business model canvas is a model based on the concept of Blitzscaling, which is a particular process of massive growth under uncertainty, and that prioritizes speed over efficiency and focuses on market domination to create a first-scaler advantage in a scenario of uncertainty.

Business Analysis Framework

Business analysis is a research discipline that helps driving change within an organization by identifying the key elements and processes that drive value. Business analysis can also be used in Identifying new business opportunities or how to take advantage of existing business opportunities to grow your business in the marketplace.

Gap Analysis

A gap analysis helps an organization assess its alignment with strategic objectives to determine whether the current execution is in line with the company’s mission and long-term vision. Gap analyses then help reach a target performance by assisting organizations to use their resources better. A good gap analysis is a powerful tool to improve execution.

Business Model Canvas

The business model canvas is a framework proposed by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur in Busines Model Generation enabling the design of business models through nine building blocks comprising: key partners, key activities, value propositions, customer relationships, customer segments, critical resources, channels, cost structure, and revenue streams.

Lean Startup Canvas

The lean startup canvas is an adaptation by Ash Maurya of the business model canvas by Alexander Osterwalder, which adds a layer that focuses on problems, solutions, key metrics, unfair advantage based, and a unique value proposition. Thus, starting from mastering the problem rather than the solution.

Digital Marketing Circle

A digital channel is a marketing channel, part of a distribution strategy, helping an organization to reach its potential customers via electronic means. There are several digital marketing channels, usually divided into organic and paid channels. Some organic channels are SEO, SMO, email marketing. And some paid channels comprise SEM, SMM, and display advertising.

Blue Ocean Strategy

A blue ocean is a strategy where the boundaries of existing markets are redefined, and new uncontested markets are created. At its core, there is value innovation, for which uncontested markets are created, where competition is made irrelevant. And the cost-value trade-off is broken. Thus, companies following a blue ocean strategy offer much more value at a lower cost for the end customers.

Balanced Scorecard

First proposed by accounting academic Robert Kaplan, the balanced scorecard is a management system that allows an organization to focus on big-picture strategic goals. The four perspectives of the balanced scorecard include financial, customer, business process, and organizational capacity. From there, according to the balanced scorecard, it’s possible to have a holistic view of the business.

ReadBalanced Scorecard

PEST Analysis

The PESTEL analysis is a framework that can help marketers assess whether macro-economic factors are affecting an organization. This is a critical step that helps organizations identify potential threats and weaknesses that can be used in other frameworks such as SWOT or to gain a broader and better understanding of the overall marketing environment.

ReadPestel Analysis

Scenario Planning

Businesses use scenario planning to make assumptions on future events and how their respective business environments may change in response to those future events. Therefore, scenario planning identifies specific uncertainties – or different realities and how they might affect future business operations. Scenario planning attempts at better strategic decision making by avoiding two pitfalls: underprediction, and overprediction.

ReadScenario Planning

SWOT Analysis

SWOT Analysis is a framework used for evaluating the business’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It can aid in identifying the problematic areas of your business so that you can maximize your opportunities. It will also alert you to the challenges your organization might face in the future.

ReadSWOT Analysis In A Nutshell

Growth Matrix

In the FourWeekMBA growth matrix, you can apply growth for existing customers by tackling the same problems (gain mode). Or by tackling existing problems, for new customers (expand mode). Or by tackling new problems for existing customers (extend mode). Or perhaps by tackling whole new problems for new customers (reinvent mode).

ReadGrowth Matrix In A Nutshell

Comparable Analysis Framework

A comparable company analysis is a process that enables the identification of similar organizations to be used as a comparison to understand the business and financial performance of the target company. To find comparables you can look at two key profiles: the business and financial profile. From the comparable company analysis it is possible to understand the competitive landscape of the target organization.

ReadComparable Analysis Framework In A Nutshell

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