When solving a problem, it’s essential to understand all the underlying root causes of the problem to arrive at a more effective solution. This template will help you and your team visualize all the potential root causes then work to find the most effective plan of attack.
Fishbone diagrams are visual tools that help you identify the root cause of an issue or problem. They might also be called cause and effect diagrams or Ishikawa diagrams. Fishbone diagrams can be used to uncover potential causes for everything, from mechanical failures and production bottlenecks to process inconsistencies.
They’re called fishbone diagrams because of their unique shape — when they’re complete, they somewhat resemble a fish skeleton, depending on your imagination and artistic ability. The main problem or issue is identified, and then different categories of root causes branch off, above and below a horizontal line at the center. The individual causes are then grouped into the larger categories.
You can create a fishbone diagram with your team in five basic steps:
Your problem statement is the main issue your team is facing that you’re looking to solve. It’s also central to your diagram. Phrase your problem statement as a question that you’re looking to answer, something like “Why are we seeing a lower manufacturing yield?” or “Why have our customer service scores dropped?” On your diagram, write out your problem statement in the head of the fish.
Your team needs to agree on the main possible contributors to the problem. Is there a failure with your equipment? Processes? People? You’re not identifying the individual causes themselves, just the broader categories that could be contributing factors for the problem. The categories you choose might depend on your particular problem statement or industry. In manufacturing, for instance, Ishikawa diagrams usually default to the “6 Ms”: machines, materials, manpower, mother nature, measurements, and methods. Your categories will make up the main branches of your fishbone diagram. Six is usually a good number to aim for, with three branching off of the top half and three branching off of the bottom half.
Hold a brainstorming session with your team to identify what could be going wrong in each of the six categories of causes. This is where you want to drill down and get as specific as possible to identify the root cause of the problem. If you think there’s a problem with the process, brainstorm exactly what could be going wrong. Are team members skipping steps? Is the training outdated? Write in those potential causes as spokes to fill out your diagram.
Some recommended methods include conducting a 5 why exercise, or outlining your ideas with a mind map.
Once you have your diagram filled out, you can see all of the potential root causes laid out cleanly. Use this visual tool to discuss with your team, then vote to determine the biggest underlying contributors.
Decide on next steps to address the root cause. Assign action items to team members and come up with a timeline for making progress toward your goals.
Teams across a number of industries use fishbone diagrams to improve their processes and identify issues in their workflows, but you can use a fishbone diagram for many types of problem-solving:
Quality experts at manufacturing facilities often use fishbone diagrams to diagnose the root cause of production-related issues and practice the Six Sigma method of continuous improvement. Use a fishbone diagram to identify the main factors behind production delays, quality control errors, inventory shortages, and more.
These facilities often need to meet stringent regulations for quality control, and fishbone diagrams can help lab managers quickly brainstorm and identify the source of compliance issues.
Managers at hospitals and physicians’ offices can use fishbone diagrams to find the source of patient bottlenecks, inefficient procedures, hospital-acquired infections, and more.
Cause-and-effect diagrams are just as useful in corporate settings, too. Directors and managers can brainstorm with their teams to figure out why business processes are delivering inconsistent results. They can also help uncover why processes aren’t being followed consistently by team members.
This cause and effect analysis helps your team collaborate efficiently, understand the root cause of problems, and arrive at more effective solutions. Use our template to run successful brainstorm sessions, conduct a root cause analysis, and settle on a clear plan to solve the problem.
The template makes it easy for your entire team to brainstorm and move around root causes as you’re completing your fishbone diagram exercise. Any collaborator can add root causes to the diagram using sticky notes; these can be color-coded or tagged based on priority, category, or any other designation. Then your team can vote anonymously on the primary root causes that are contributing to the problem. MURAL also includes a timer feature to keep the exercise running efficiently.
MURAL’s template offers built-in accountability for addressing and solving the problem at hand. Once you’ve identified the root cause, fill in your next steps as well as who’s responsible for carrying them out. Attach deadlines to each, and decide when you’ll regroup to stay on track. All of this info is integrated directly inside the template, so it’s easily stored and shared with your entire team.