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Fishbone Analysis

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A process to help identify and understand the origins of problems, issues or observations.



To study a problem/issue to determine the root cause. To analyse the possible reasons why a process is beginning to have difficulties, problems, or breakdowns. To identify areas for additional research. To experience the capacity to find the root causes of a problem.





    Setting: Fish Diagram on large white board or seveal flipchart taped to gether.

    Number of participants: 6-15

    Time needed: 3 hours

    Pre-Work Required: Prepare blank fish diagram

    Type of Facilitator-Client Relationship: High trust needed

    Level of Difficulty to Facilitate (to be deleted during review): Facilitation skills required



    Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa, a Japanese quality control statistician, invented the fishbone diagram. It is some times called Ishikawa diagram. The fishbone diagram is tool to systematically look at an issue and the causes that contribute to those issues. The design of the diagram looks much like the skeleton of a fish. Therefore, it is often referred to as the fishbone diagram. See the diagram page.


    1. Draw the fishbone diagram on a large white board of several flipcharts taped together.

    2.Agree on the focus question / issue.

    3. Write the problem/issue to be worked on in the "head of the fish".

    4. Brainstorm issues that "cause" the issue.

    5. Organize them into 6 to 12 categories.

    6. Label each "bone" of the "fish".

    7. For each of the categories create subcategories and put them on the smaller bones of the fish.

    8. To generate more and deeper insights into the causes ask, "Why is this happening?"

    9. Continue until no more useful information is coming out.

    10. When an adequate amount of detail is in each of the major categories, look for items that show up in more than one category. These are "most likely causes".

    11. Prioritize them. The first is the most probable cause.

    12. Go to the solution stage.


    1. What were the stages of this exercise?

    2. What were you surprised by?

    3. What did you learn?

    4. What will it take to make this useful for the company?


    Follow-Up Required: problem solution generation process normally follows this.

    Usual or Expected Outcomes: A list of the most likely and the most probable cause.

    Online Tip

    This activity can be done online using  collaboration boards some of which already have templates for the Fishbone Diagram that participants can utilize. Otherwise, particpants have a lot of fun drawing and displaying their fishbone diagrams by holding them up to the camera. Screenshots may be taken of the hand drawn diagrams while they are being displayed. They may also be captured by recording the presentation.


    Source: Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa

    Derived from: unknown

    History of Development: unknown

    Alternative names: Ishikawa diagram; root cause analysis

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