Fishbone Diagram
How to Use Fishbone Charts
and do Fishbone Analysis


What is a fishbone diagram? Why do we use them in change and operations management? And how do we use them?



Fishbone Diagrams



Fishbone diagrams, are also referred to as fishbone charts or ishikawa diagrams. They are a type of cause and effect diagram that provides users with a tool for visualising the causes and drivers of an outcome, or the head of the fish. They are a change management tool that assists us to focus on the events, processes and activities and there sub parts that lead to an output, be it a positive or negative output.

We us them in change management and operations management for working out how we can achieve an output goal and what things need to be addressed to achieve the output. They are also used in root cause analysis training and in problem solving techniques for solution searching to identify the root causes of problems.

At the bottom of this page I have written an few summary notes, check these out because these are important to keep in mind in the real world application of this tool.



How to use a Fishbone Chart



Firstly, in change management we do not always start the analysis with a problem. It is often best to start with a goal, or a target we want to achieve as an output and use the fishbone chart to help get us there.

The major categories identified are set out as the ribs of the fish, or the major branches in a tree. The sub-categories become the detailed sections coming off each rib.

The outcome or the head of the fish can be a positive or negative outcome that is being analysed.

fishbone diagram


Feel welcome to save this fishbone diagram template for your own use. Please give credit where credit is due. Thanks

Steps to completing a Fishbone Analysis



1. Identity the positive outcome or problem and place it in the head of the fish. In the box at the right hand side of the diagram.

2. List down all the major categories or the drivers and/or causes of the outcome. Common categories include:
  • Operating Processes,

  • People,

  • Materials (resources or raw material inputs),

  • Machinery and equipment,

  • Company Policies and,

  • Working Procedures.


These become the end of each rib bones of the fish. They are each main category.

Importantly, the scope of fishbone diagrams are broad because they are trying to identify a solution or the cause of a problem so we must start broad and look into all possible categories.

3. Now undertake brainstorming activities to identify each of the sub-categories under each main category. For example:
  • What influence do our staff have on....?

  • How does raw material inputs affect the....?

  • How does machinery affect the....?

  • What company polices affect....?


Another change management tool to help with this step is the 5 whys tool. By asking the why question five times you should get to root issue within a sub-category.

The results of this first brainstorming step become the sub-categories of each main category.

4. Then we begin to do a second brainstorm of each sub-category to get to the details.
  • Under material resources we may list product specifications. Then the results of brainstorming product specifications may highlight a detailed issue. We go through this process for each sub-category to complete the fishbone.
  • Under people we may list training, poor workmanship or the amount of people required (staffing levels) and then brainstorm them further.
  • Under company policies we may list procedures required then brainstorm further.
  • Under machinery we may list age of the equipment, and suitability to current technology, and operating procedures, and so on
  • Under equipment we may list design, and so on.

5. Importantly, when we do this brainstorming exercise we look for points that appear often. We also look for the points that have a major impact or influence that we know from other sources of information in the business are major factors within the category. These details may be raised up a level in the fishbone diagram to become a key bone.

6. Then we take each of the sub-categories and there detail points and list them in order of priority. If we have lots of data, we may take the detail of each sub-category, compile it together and do a Pareto Analysis to assist us in the prioritization process.

7. Finally we use an action plan template to manage and monitor getting things done. Results from fishbone analysis are achieved from taking action.

8. To test the success of the change we then analyse or measure the outcome before and after the category detail has been addressed. Possibly even periodically to ensure continued effectiveness.

And further, if using a Pareto Analysis from sub-category data for the prioritisation of actions, we may do the Pareto Analysis again to see what changes have occurred and there effect on the outcome.

9. Company documentation should be updated to take into account the new procedures or equipment, etc.



Benefits of using Fishbone Diagrams



Fishbone diagrams help us to see relationships of how things work together and all the categories and sub-categories that form the output. We can see the various events and activities that are causing an outcome, be it positive or negative. For example if we were monitoring a process it provides a way for us to understand the information easily and the relationships within the information.

Often working as a change management consultant, observations are made in the filed and recorded for analysis before developing the change management plan. This process helps us to focus on the output, and on the key areas of importance that are fact based.

As we collect more information about a particular point it helps to bring about patterns as we can see the same issues coming up most often and trends in the data begin to emerge.

A major benefit is that it helps us to identify an activity, outcome or event where we do not have enough information to make informed decisions. It helps when we have a lack of information.

Fishbone diagrams help us to understand problems before undertaking change management programs on specific activities. We have something clear that we can aim to develop a solution for.

They provide us one place and one model to record information into for categorized analysis from the various sources we collect from, in a logical list of categories we can visualize. For example from measurements and incidents that have been recorded, from the company data base or the customer compliant files. It makes the process of recording and categorizing and visualizing data easy.

We can use them to define a situation or a problem to any desired level of understanding by brainstorming down further into any sub-category of detail.

Fishbone diagrams are one of the operations management tools of the standard set of six sigma tools and lean manufacturing tools used in problem solving strategies and solution analysis. For example, if we were running a maintenance organization using fishbone diagrams can help us to identify possible causes of product defects. This process will help us to identify the root cause for the defect output, whether it be people operating machinery, the machinery suitability for the task, or the way it is maintained, etc.



Fishbone Diagrams and Teamwork



Fishbone diagrams provide an opportunity for teams before they begin on a change management initiative to do a detailed analysis. They provide the team a change management tool to identify opportunities and causes of problems or solutions to assist towards achieving team objectives.

Once the team has agreed on the outcome of the fishbone, or the fish head, it forces all the team members to be focused on that point and not deviate to areas that are not relevant. The team agrees what is being studied so all members are looking for the same things and trying to solve the same problem.

This team focuses on task and can save time in trying to understand relationships. It helps prevent members getting caught up in individual complaints or finger pointing.

They provide teams a baseline for more detailed analysis and allow an opportunity for people to work together to discuss and review in deep detail each bone or category on the chart.

When using fishbone diagrams as a teamwork activity trends in the data can emerge very quickly because people and process are focused on the same thing.

Completing fishbone diagrams helps teams to separate facts from opinions out in the field and to visualize them.

Summary on Fishbone Diagrams and Fishbone Analysis



As a change management consultant I prefer to focus on a positive outcome or event rather than focusing on a negative. A focus on negatives can generate negative environments and blaming and can halt progress towards the target. Focusing on positive outcomes is positive for teamwork and achieving results.

Importantly ensure that all the team members involved stay detached or independent of the process, and maintain open-mindedness. They should not have prejudice towards the process or a particular outcome.

The significance of a sub-category detail is not determined by where it appears in the fishbone diagram. Being in the fishbone diagram will raise it for further analysis. The questions we ask about each point will help us to identify its actual level of importance and right place on the fishbone.



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