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Fishbone Charts (Ishikawa)

Fishbone Charts (Ishikawa)

What is this?

A Fishbone chart is a technique that is used to visually map the several causes of an effect or a problem, in order to identify its root cause. It is also called the cause and effect or Ishikawa diagram as it was invented by Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa who is a Japanese quality control expert. He was trying to help his employees avoid solutions that are not related to the real cause of the problem.

When and why is this tool used?

During brainstorming sessions, fishbone charts can be used to focus the discussion.  In order to identify the reasons for a certain incidence, brainstorming sessions usually result in many findings that need to be organized. This tool helps you organize them in categories and explore how they could be related. It can be very effective as an analysis tool in problem solving.

How is this tool used?

Start using this tool by drawing your fishbone skeleton, or download our worksheet template from here.

Step 1 (Agree on a problem to be solved):

Decide what is the problem you need to solve or the effect you want to eliminate. Write it at the head of your fish skeleton on the worksheet.

Step 2 (Identify the major causes):

To work on a problem brainstorm all the potential causes, for example, raise the question: “Why did this happen?” Main categories of causes can include things like: Methods, Machine, People, and Materials. Keep asking “Why did this happen?” and expand to subcategories. Go deeper and think of further details that could have affected your problem until you reach the root cause. If we apply the fishbone method trying to analyze the traffic jam problem in Egypt, we can get the following causes:

Methods: At some areas traffic laws are not monitored and applied strictly.
Machine: Some cars hardware needs fixing and affects the road safety as they could cause several accidents.
People or Man: Drivers lack awareness and commitment to the rules of the road.
Materials: Poor quality material used in building roads.

Step 3 (Rate those causes):

After the brainstorming is over, work with your team to rate potential causes they came up with according to their importance.

Step 4 (Diagram the findings):

Map your results into a diagram that resembles a fish skeleton. The head of the fish represents the problem, while the backbone represents the potential causes. 

Step 5 (Take an action):

Now the diagram is showing you all possible causes of the problem. You can investigate more causes in order to test which of these possible causes is the root cause of the problem. Afterwards, list the actions you need to take further.

Hints for using this tool

You can use this tool not only for analysis in problem solving, but also for finding the roots of any effect on your business. For example, you can use it to think of possible reasons that might cause your traffic to rise or drop.

Case Study

Product failure threatens most of starting entrepreneurs. Salma launched her new product, and it didn’t come out as a success. She has several doubts on why did this happen, she decided analyzing the whole situation using fishbone chart.

The head of the fish is the problem, in Salma’s case it is “new product failure”. She then draws the backbone of the fish which is an arrow pointing to the head. Salma and her team analyzed the methods, material, people and machines aspect.










Methods: Product launch was delayed several times due to lack of planning and unable to finalizing distribution deals.

Machine: Testing machines were not very effective which led to a lower product quality than expected.

Material: Raw material cost increased by 30% before launch. Which led to shifting to cheaper material with less quality.

People: Sales representatives did insufficient sales efforts due lack of training.

After she illustrated the causes of her problem on the diagram, she started to prioritize those causes and how they could affect the problem. Upon that the team came up with an action plan.

The start up would start with a check up on all testing machines to assure that all distributed products are up to their quality standards. Additionally try to get several offers from suppliers with lower prices and better quality for raw material. Salma will assess training requirements for her sales team and provide successive planning sessions for the whole team.

Pros and Cons

The tool is simple and helps highlight the relationship between different causes, yet it is only based on opinion rather than evidence since the data stated by the brainstorming participants might be inaccurate. The tool is not enough without conducting further research and analysis. Research can be qualitative, as focus groups, or quantitative as surveys.

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