Fishbone (Cause and Effect) Diagram

A fishbone diagram organizes possible causes into a visual format that is quickly understood.

Fishbone diagrams are easy to make (see the templates page for the Excel and PPT files used for these examples).

There are three elements to a fishbone diagram, shown in the example below, where a team is brainstorming reasons for custom orders being late (this example is for a custom window coverings manufacturer) –

The problem statement is on the right-hand side of the diagram:

Fishbone Diagram - Problem Statement


Causes are grouped into major categories, making the diagram easily understood:

Fishbone Diagram - Cause Groupings


Individual causes are noted within each cause group.  Note that these are potential causes, based on team input.

Fishbone Diagram - Individual Causes


Creating a Fishbone Diagram – 8 Steps

Fishbone diagrams are usually created in a team meeting.  Here is an 8-step approach that works well –

Step Description
Communicate the objective At the start of the meeting, review the meeting objective.  Example:  “Our goal in this meeting is to list possible causes behind problem ABC, after which we will prioritize and take action to address those causes.”
Show an example It’s always helpful to show a fishbone diagram example at the start of the meeting.  Use something that most people can relate to, like the “missed free-throws” example.
Let the team know that all potential causes will be included  

Fishbone diagram sessions are much like brainstorming.  The goal is to generate a complete list of potential causes, without criticizing or debating ideas.  Prioritizing potential causes for validation/action happens after the fishbone diagram is completed.

Ask team members to write down potential causes Large sticky notes (3″x3″ work well) are great for this exercise.  Once team members have written their ideas, have them stick them onto a whiteboard or wall and explain them.  This approach keeps everyone engaged in the meeting and eases the facilitator’s workload during the meeting.

This approach keeps everyone engaged in the meeting and eases the facilitator’s workload during the meeting.

Keep it moving Keep the meeting moving, and avoid discussing any one cause for too long.
Group the causes Once all causes are listed and described by the team members, put them into logical groups (see cause groups above) and eliminate any duplicate causes.
Prioritize Once the causes are grouped and listed, ask the team members to prioritize which causes should be investigated first, and develop an action plan.
Take a picture Take a picture of the sticky-note fishbone diagram and document it using an Excel or Powerpoint.

Jump to –

More Templates

Product Quality Example

Fishbone Diagram Training PPT