Prep Time:
Time to run:
30 min

Fishbone diagram template

Visualize multiple potential causes and effects of a problem

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When solving a problem, it’s essential to understand all the underlying root causes of the problem to arrive at a more effective solution. A fishbone diagram template will help you and your team quickly get started visualizing all the potential root causes and working to find the most effective plan of attack.

A fishbone diagram, also known as an Ishikawa diagram or cause and effect diagram, is a visual tool for categorizing the potential causes and effects of a problem. The diagram helps users group these causes into categories and provides a structure to display them.

The fishbone diagram template helps teams:

  • Identify root causes of complex problem
  • Improve understanding with stakeholders
  • Brainstorm ideas and collaborate to fix bottlenecks
  • Build new processes and prevent reoccurring issues

How to use the cause-and-effect fishbone diagram template

Follow these steps to identify possible causes & effects with the simple fishbone diagram template.

1. Identify your problem statement

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.

2. Classify your main causes and different categories

Your team needs to agree on the main possible contributors to the main 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.

3. Brainstorm the root causes

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 the potential causes of a problem as spokes to fill out your diagram.

Some recommended methods include conducting a 5 why exercise, or outlining your ideas with a mind map.

Pro-tip: Your root cause analysis may show that you have sub-causes, or smaller issues that contribute to the larger problem you’re facing.

4. Vote on the top root causes of your problem

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 to address first.

5. Create an action plan to solve the problem at the root

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.

Tips for creating a cause-and-effect analysis using the fishbone diagram:

  • Use visual cues and color coding: Utilize visual cues and color coding to highlight the significance and prioritize the causes identified. This helps team members easily understand and focus on the most critical factors that contribute to the problem.
  • Guide problem-solving with the team: Try guiding the team through a structured analysis of the causes identified. Encourage discussions on the potential impact and likelihood of each cause, and facilitate decision-making to prioritize the causes based on their significance.
  • Encourage open and collaborative discussions: Foster an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their insights and perspectives. Encourage active participation, brainstorming, and the free exchange of ideas to capture a comprehensive range of potential causes.

How to create a Fishbone diagram template

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Fishbone diagram template frequently asked questions

Who invented the fishbone diagram?

How is a fishbone diagram structured?

Who should be involved in the fishbone diagram exercise?

How many sub-causes can we build into our diagram?

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