Prioritize A Fishbone Diagram

A large group can contribute more ideas.

Fishbone diagrams, also called Cause and Effect diagrams, are used not to find solutions to a problem but to think through and identify the root cause of a problem. When an issue might have several causes or appears extremely complicated, it is helpful to create a tool such as the fishbone diagram to understand deal with the problem. This approach combines brainstorming with the use of a concept map that can sometimes look like the skeleton of a fish. Prioritize your fishbone diagram to make it most effective.


1. Each flip-chart sheet can be kept for easy referral.

Identify the problem. For instance, if your company manufactures food products, and metal was found in one recent food shipment, draw a rectangular box on a sheet of paper on a flip chart and write “Pieces of metal in the food” inside the box. Think of the problem as the head of the fish. Draw a horizontal line across the paper extending from this box.

2. Different colored markers can be used to identify each factor.

Write down as many causes or factors that you feel might contribute to the problem—for instance, personnel error, machinery error, insufficient maintenance or faulty containers. Highlight each cause or draw an oval shape and write each heading inside the oval. Place each oval or highlighted word in the middle of the page, above and below the horizontal line.

3. Ask yourself for each factor, “why does this problem occur or happen?” Write an answer, for example “inattention to detail” for personnel error. Do this for each factor and draw a dark vertical line from each of these “whys” to connect it to the factor word. You can create as many lines as needed. Think of them as the bones of the fish.

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4. Each step should move you forward to your goal.

Use the fishbone diagram as a visual means of identifying the problem and prioritizing the steps required to deal with the problem. Rearrange the factors and issues as necessary.