A complete guide on how to use the Fishbone Diagram

In business, you need to be prepared for anything that could happen if you want to stay ahead of the competition. Although there are things that are simply out of your control, what you can avoid is going through the same problems repeatedly by making sure that you have a system for identifying and addressing these problems. 

This is where a fishbone diagram can be useful. Now, you might ask: 

What is a fishbone diagram? 

Also known as Ishikawa diagram, a fishbone diagram is a tool that’s used by entrepreneurs to create a representation of the possible causes of a problem to determine its root causes. 

Focusing on the cause and effect of things, this diagram was developed in the 60s by Kaoru Ishikawa and was named for its resemblance to the fish’s skeleton.

When can you form the fishbone diagram?

Being a cause-and-effect diagram, you can use the fishbone diagram to solve different kinds of problems within your business. 

But this type of diagram is also versatile enough that it can be used to represent the different contributing factors within a process or system in an organized, hierarchical manner. 

Here are some situations that teach you when to use a fishbone diagram as one of your primary tools:

  • To identify the root cause of a problem. It’s a common mistake among a lot of entrepreneurs to put band aids over a problem just to get over it and not really deal with the realities involved. 

Although this seems like a smart and quick way to tackle issues in the office, it also puts you at risk in going through the same problems over and over again. When you use the fishbone diagram, you’ll be able to identify why the problem really happened so you can fix it.

  • To perform root cause analysis. Any expert would say that creating the fishbone diagram should be a team effort because you have to collaborate with all the parties involved in brainstorming the causes of your problem. 

By having different perspectives in the room, it would be a lot easier to put together a strong fishbone diagram that actually considers every factor that’s involved in dealing with the problem.

  • To put together a plan of action. Of course, the fishbone diagram shouldn’t stop at just analyzing your problems and getting to their real causes. 

It should also help you put a plan of action in place so that you can eliminate these causes and move forward with a better perspective as a business.

  • To protect your business against any more risks. One of the biggest benefits of using the fishbone diagram in problem solving is that you can actually evaluate if the problem has been completely eliminated. 

This will help you guard your business against any more risks and even guide you in improving your processes for the future. 

How to create a fishbone diagram?

Creating the fishbone diagram is just like drawing a real fish skeleton, the only difference being that every part of that skeleton has a purpose. 

Although there are no hard-and-fast rules in creating a fishbone diagram and you have the freedom to go about the process however you want, these simple steps can serve as your guide in creating your own diagram for your business:

  • Start by drawing the head of the fish on the right side of the diagram, which will represent the problem that you’re trying to analyze and solve.
  • Draw the backbone of the fish on the left and create the branches by listing down the different causes that you’ve identified while brainstorming with your team. You can list for to eight main causes depending on the problem that you’re trying to solve.
  • Expand these branches further by listing causes and sub-causes. This will take some time to complete, but it’s a great way of really putting things in perspective down to the very minute details, so you can get more clarity out of the situation. 

While you can start creating your fishbone diagram by doodling on a board or on paper, you will eventually need a tool to help you put things together a lot more easily. 

Weje fishbone diagram
The Weje service has been useful for a lot of businesses that are creating their fishbone diagram. You can easily check out a template that you can follow for your own process.

How to use the fishbone diagram?

Now that you’re already familiar with how the fishbone diagram works, there are many ways in which you can adopt this process within your organization:

  • Damaged product. This is such a common problem in a lot of businesses and it can be caused by a lot of factors. 

To make things easier to analyze, you can start with the six main causes: machines, methods, materials, environment, measurements and personnel. 

You can then break these categories down a little further by identifying the different sub-cause under them to create your fishbone diagram. 

For instance, if you’re talking about materials, you could identify poor quality products from suppliers and wrong packing material as potential causes on why the product was easily damaged.

  • Poor customer service. This is another common issue that can affect how your business operates in the long-term. When you hear complaints about poor customer service, you start with the same six main causes and break them down to include specific causes that led to the problem. 

For instance, if you’re selling food and the customer complains that the food doesn’t taste the same as it was before, you could identify the wrong recipe as a causative factor under methods.

  • Inefficiency. If you start to notice that your operations are not as efficient as they were before, you could create a fishbone diagram that states the possible cause of this inefficiency. 

Use a fishbone diagram to identify possible causes like lack of training, problems with staffing, and the environment itself. 

Tips for using the Fishbone Diagram

Now that we already answered the question on why use a fishbone diagram, it’s time to learn about the different tips that will help you use this tool efficiently:

Problem definition tips

This is the first step to making sure that your fishbone diagram will be successful. Look into what’s the real issue and be specific about it to make sure that you can identify the causes and come up with a concrete plan of action. 

Key area decision tips

After defining the problem, you can move on to determining which areas you need to focus on so that it’s easy for you and your team to determine the actual cause of the problem. 

You have the freedom to list down as many of these major areas as you see fit, but try to limit yourself to a maximum of 10, so that it’s easier to break them down into smaller details.

Process Map

A process map is very useful in giving you a clear picture of your current systems, putting in detail every single step that’s involved in your process. 

By defining your process map clearly, you will be able to identify clear causes that you can add to your fishbone diagram. Your process map will also help you tackle these issues more efficiently since you have something to serve as your guide in creating a plan of action.


Since creating a fishbone diagram is always considered a team effort, it would be useful to organize a brainstorming session with key members of your team that are most involved in the issue at hand. 

It will not only help you get a clear perspective of things, which will help you put together your fishbone diagram, but it will also prevent overlooking anything that’s crucial to the success of this endeavor.

Forward planning tips 

After brainstorming with your team, you can do forward planning that will allow you to not only determine the root causes of the problem but also create ways to address them, so you can move forward with a better grip on your operations. 

It is also very useful if you are still unsure of the causes that you’ve identified during your brainstorming session.

Collaborating tips

You need to work with your team members in not only identifying the root causes of your problems but also in creating concrete solutions for them. 

To make the process smooth, especially that a lot of people are involved,   you can promote better collaboration by identifying the roles of each person and color coding things so you know exactly which ideas belong to what group.

What are the advantages and limitations of a fishbone diagram?

A fishbone diagram is definitely useful in tackling issues that could affect your business in the long run. But just like any system, it also has its advantages and limitations:

Fishbone Diagram Advantages

The fishbone diagram gives you the advantage of determining most, if not all, of the causes of an issue so you can tackle it more efficiently. You don’t need to sweep these problems under the rug because with the right information, you can address them to improve your own system in the future.

Limitations Fishbone Diagram

Creating a fishbone diagram should be a continuous process and not a one-time activity. Even if you already solved your problem, you always need to be proactive about identifying new causes and taking action before things get worse again. 

In the end, the fishbone diagram is such a useful tool in helping tackle the many problems that you face when running your business and also allows you to improve processes while you’re at it.

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