Fishbone Diagram (Cause and Effect or Ishikawa)

Fishbone Diagram

Fishbone Diagram-Brainstorming
Fishbone Diagram-Brainstorming

The fishbone diagram which is also known as the Ishikawa diagram, cause and effect diagram, can be used to identify the root cause of a problem.
The fishbone diagram which looks like fish skeleton, was developed by Dr. Kaoru in 1943 at the University of Tokyo. Hence the Fishbone Diagram is frequently referred to as an “Ishikawa Diagram”.
This tool gives you an overall list of possible causes to determine the root cause of the problem. By the help of this visual tool, it is easy to understand what causes a problem and how to solve it.

The Fishbone (Cause and Effect or Ishikawa) Diagram is one of the seven basic tools of quality.


The 7 basic quality tools are graphing techniques that people commonly use for quality control troubleshooting purposes. They are easy to use and implement.

  1. Fishbone (Cause and Effect or Ishikawa) Diagram
  2. Check sheet
  3. Control charts
  4. Histogram
  5. Pareto chart
  6. Scatter diagram
  7. Stratification

Categorization of Causes in a Fishbone Diagram

Fishbone diagrams are widely used in industries such as service, manufacturing, marketing etc. There are a few suggested categories are below.

Service Industries

In the service industry, you can categorize the factors (causes) by 4Ps:
• Policies
• Plant/Technology
• Procedures
• People

Manufacturing Industries

In the Manufacturing industry, you can categorize the factors (causes) by 6Ms:
• Material
• Manpower
• Measurement
• Mother Nature (Environment)
• Management
• Machine

Marketing Industries

In the Marketing industry, you can categorize the factors (causes) by 7Ps:
• Place
• Promotion
• People
• Packaging
• Product
• Price
• Positioning

Many classifications can be made for categorization of causes in a fishbone diagram; however, the above are more popular than the others.

How to Create a Fishbone Diagram

The following are the steps to create a fishbone diagram

1. Identify the Problem (Effect)

The problem expression can be written in a box at the mouth of the fish.

Fishbone Diagram-Identify the Problem (Effect)
Fishbone Diagram-Identify the Problem (Effect)

2. Agree on the major categories of causes of the problem

The major categories can be written as branches from the main arrow. Major categories often include: Material, Manpower, People etc.

Fishbone Diagram-Major categories
Fishbone Diagram-Major categories

3. Brainstorm all the possible causes

In this step brainstorming can be made by group/team members based on prior experiences. During brainstorming, ask “Why does this happen?” Note the answer. These causes can be written horizontally to the fishbone they belong. Causes can be written in several places if they relate to several categories.

Again ask “Why does this happen?” about each cause. Write sub-causes branching off the cause branches.

Fishbone Diagram-Brainstorming
Fishbone Diagram-Brainstorming

Note that the “five-whys” technique is often used in conjunction with the fishbone diagram – keep asking why until you get to the root cause.

4. Analyze the Diagram

Once the fishbone diagram completed, an investigation can be made with team members to identify the root cause of the problem. Solution can be determined and corrective actions can be taken.

Benefits of a Fishbone Diagram

– It is a visual tool which displays the links and relationships among the potential causes and results displayed in the diagram.

– It demonstrates all causes simultaneously.
– It encourages brainstorming about the reasons for a certain result because it captures all the causes.
– It stimulates your team to explore the root cause of a problem.
– It helps to determine the methods to improve the process and take corrective actions.

Limitations/Drawbacks of a Fishbone Diagram

– For a realistic result, a team is needed to make brainstorming.
– In complex situations it is difficult to represent the interrelated nature of problems and causes.
– Sometimes it can be hard to determine the root cause of a problem because of team members bias.


The fishbone diagram is a powerful process improvement which greatly helps to determine the important factors involved in a process. Creating this diagram encourages teamwork and builds trust between departments. It is widely used in all industries as a problem solving tool.


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