Process Improvement: The Fishbone Diagram

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

The fishbone is a form of cause and effect analysis. It is different than the 5 Why approach that we discussed last week. However, the objective is the same. It seeks to help us identify the cause of an undesirable outcome. As leaders, we may be tempted to settle for what appears to be the obvious answer. The fishbone diagram helps stimulate a dialogue that is more thorough and often helps drill down into a deeper under standing of the root cause.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

The fishbone is a tool for mildly complex problem solving that doesn’t require a lot of data analysis. It also allows for a team to discuss multiple potential root causes and document all of the information in one location so that is can be visually analyzed. This is a great tool to use at a leadership retreat or planning session where multiple ideas can be discussed in a medium to large sized group setting.

How can you do it? 

  1. Identify an opportunity. In order to arrive at answer, we must first have a clearly defined problem. Write out the problem or opportunity statement on a large board or flip chart.
  2. Makes the bones. The initial statement should be written to the far right and each possible cause should be written to the left. Each topic will make one bone of the fishbone diagram.
  3. Drill down.There may be sub-topics under a specific cause. Discuss them in detail until the idea has been exhausted. This should be documented with the corresponding bone on the diagram.
  4. Identify the cause (or causes). This process may lead to multiple root causes. Once you and your team feel that you’ve exhausted the potential causes, assess your information and decide which causes require action.

What are some examples of how you have used this process to stimulate a problem solving discussion? Log on and join the conversation at  We learn best from each other’s experiences.

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