What Is a Fishbone Diagram? Definition and Full Breakdown.

When addressing problems, it can be incredibly difficult to find a solution that fixes everything. Around every corner are different symptoms to a larger problem and it can become difficult to see the forest through the trees. Doing so requires a visual representation of the issues at hand, and in this case that comes in the form of a fishbone diagram. In this article, we will discuss what a fishbone diagram is, when it is most applicable, and how it is different from similar templates.

Fishbone Diagram Definition

A fishbone diagram is a template that breaks down problems in a way that helps teams identify and address the root cause of an issue rather than the symptoms. It specializes in isolating symptoms to eliminate them from the context of the problem, which allows teams to dissect the real issue and fix it at the source.

The name of “Fishbone Diagram” originates from the skeleton of a fish, which is constructed around a spine with several ribs jutting out diagonally. As you complete the diagram you will move from left to right, with the smaller lines representing different symptoms and categories of the larger problem. The fishbone diagram culminates at the right side with the head of the fish: the root issue.

Why Is a Fishbone Diagram Important?

A fishbone diagram is a visualization diagram that helps compartmentalize and address the potential causes of a lingering issue. This tool is important because it can allow teams to separate the symptoms of a problem from the root issue, and by doing so it can eliminate many problems at once.

An alternative way of addressing a fishbone diagram is by calling it “root cause analysis”, which is an exercise fishbone diagrams are often used for when determining cause and effect.

Fishbone Diagram Advantages

A fishbone diagram is beneficial in development and troubleshooting processes and can be used in many scenarios surrounding problem-solving.

One of the reasons it’s so popular with problem-solving is because it integrates an element of brainstorming into the process. This helps document alternative perspectives while also giving multiple people the chance to view the material in real-time. 

A fishbone diagram has many other benefits when looking into the cause and effect of a given problem, some of which are listed here:

  • Documents information in a diagram that is easy to read.
  • Lists the various triggers that relate to the overall problem and shows the relation between them.
  • Compares different variables in relation to a grander problem.
  • Provides a more in-depth explanation of the problem at hand.
  • Integrates multiple perspectives and real-time brainstorming into the problem-solving process.
  • Facilitates more regular discussions of important issues.

How To Create a Fishbone Diagram

Creating a fishbone diagram is fairly easy for people that know what they’re doing, but especially when creating one online it’s important that you understand the steps to solving one before drawing it out. This allows you to create it exactly as you see fit rather than copying a generic template.

Step 1: Write initial problem statement

The first step is documenting and understanding the goal of the session. This could be finding a specific problem, listing out as many causes and effects, or looking for a smaller solution.

Make sure that you post it as a “why” statement in order to prompt questions and focus your answers.

Step 2: Determine your categories

Begin listing categories that relate to the issue and might be causing problems. These will look different depending on your business, but try to separate them into distinct groups that cause different kinds of issues. For example, your categories could be marketing, development, sales, SEO, etc.

Step 3: Brainstorm possible causes

After you have your categories mapped out, you should start brainstorming possible causes within each category. Each category should have the main problem associated and these causes should actively and obviously contribute to that issue.

Step 4: Discuss as a team

The final step in the fishbone diagram is discussing the results as a team and deciding the best path forward. This means you must gather the results of the categories, discuss the various causes, and brainstorm the solutions to both the smaller problems and the root cause of those issues. This step might seem simple, but because all of the issues are diagrammed out, addressing them and verbalizing a solution is much easier than without this visual reference.

What’s the Difference Between a Fishbone Diagram, Ishikawa Diagram, and Cause & Effect Diagram?

Fishbone diagrams go by a couple of different names, some of which are Ishikawa diagrams, cause & effect diagrams, and herringbone diagrams. The source of the Ishikawa diagram results from the developer of the diagram, a Japanese professor named Kaoru Ishikawa. Ishikawa created the diagram in 1960 in order to assist employees in avoiding solutions that address symptoms and attempt to focus only on solutions that address core problems.

Another version of the title is cause & effect, which is granted to the diagram because of how it displays the relationship between causal elements. A fishbone diagram is meant to display multiple different problems, their causes, and their trickle-down effects. This title emphasizes the reasons behind implementing a fishbone diagram and is a simplistic representation.

In short, the fishbone diagram, Ishikawa diagram. and cause & effect diagrams are all the same thing just in different forms. If one title helps you recognize it better then we suggest using that, but since they’re all the same, we’re going to stick with fishbone.


A fishbone diagram may be a critical instrument for determining the causal explanation for a root problem. While it might seem clunky upon initial use, the rewards are massive when implemented correctly. For important problems, make sure you employ a fishbone diagram so you don’t end up wasting time on minor issues. If you liked this article make sure you stay tuned to Fresco and our blog for more collaborative content.


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