What is a Fishbone?

A cause & effect diagram, or Fishbone or Ishikawa Diagram, is a method to organize variables potentially contributing toward causing a particular effect or contributing to your problem. A fishbone is a way to document a problem’s current state and with known information. This provides users a visual method to identify key factors that may contribute to the problem.

As seen below, the “head” of the diagram represents the “Problem Statement” box, known as the Project Y. Along each of the spines are 6 common categories that are likely contributor categories to the project Y. Each spine contains potential contributing factors within each category, these contributors are X’s. This turns this diagram into an equation stating that your problem, Y, is a function of various factors, X.

A cause & effect diagram, also called Fishbone or Ishikawa Diagram, is a method to organize variables that may be a contributing factor toward causing a particular effect or contributing to your problem
Template Available for Download at Bottom of Page

When to Use

Use a fishbone to initially identify potential causes to a problem. If a team can no longer identify solutions, this diagram can organize factors previously examined and future opportunities.

The goal of this exercise is to document all known information about the process/challenge at hand. This information becomes potential X’s that may be contributing to the Project Y. Once identified, prioritize the X’s based on the likely impact to the problem. At this phase, use intuition and experience to determine impact. Utilize data and other insights to prove or disprove an initial theory.

How to Use

The first step is to develop the problem definition – Undesired characteristic, missed objective, undesired/unexpected outcome, or effect under investigation. This statement belongs in the box at the right side (The fish’s head).

The six categories along the backbone of the fishbone diagram to examine are,

  • People: Human factors might be contributing to the problem. This may include an employee’s preference, a disability that has not been accommodated, ergonomic issues, physical limitations, etc.
  • Tools: The device(s) imparting work into the process. This includes manufacturing equipment calibration and cleanliness. Using the right tool for the right job. Is the machine used correctly for the application?
  • Environment: Factors relating to mother nature. Includes: ambient temperature and humidity, operating temperature and pressure of auxiliary/support equipment, excess wind, sunlight, or UV rays.
  • Measurement: A device used to take measurements. Include measurement method and number of measurements. (process repeatability)
  • Methods: Is process properly performed? For machinery, is equipment performing at its optimal performance?
  • Materials: This is the material of a physical component and the material’s features. This may include wall thickness, proper quality, strength, toughness.

Example Challenge

For this example, we want to identify potential contributors for a car overheating.

Example fishbone diagram solving machine down time for car problem.

From the above example, we have identified multiple contributors, X’s, that may be leading to the problem, Project Y. Additionally, the highlighted X’s indicate a key contributing variable.

A method to order factors as causing more and less impact is using a prioritization matrix. This will indicate which factors you and your team should focus on first by “scoring” factors based on impact to your problem statement and the ease of implementation or checking. The higher the score, the higher the prioritization.

Prioritize opportunities with this opportunity matrix
Prioritization matrix

Download a Free Fishbone Template Below,


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