Organization Planning: How to Use a Fishbone Diagram

As a budding entrepreneur or self-made businessman or woman (or anything in between), it’s important to know how to deal with problems in a logical and calculated manner. Ultimately, your job isn’t your occupation – your job is to identify issues and come up with a way (or ways) to solve them.

Keen business insight is, of course, essential, but the practical application of that knowledge is equally important if you are to be a successful business manager. That means getting to grips with different skill sets and learning some valuable problem-solving techniques.

One such technique is the fishbone diagram, a tried and tested method of identifying problems and finding ways to solve them. And while it’s not the only problem-solving technique out there, it’s a valuable one to know and will inform you in all your future business decisions.

Organization Planning: How to Use a Fishbone Diagram

What is a Fishbone Diagram?

The fishbone diagram is essentially a cause-and-effect chart, focusing on finding out the reasons for imperfections, flaws, or defects. The diagram resembles a fish’s skeleton, the main issue or problem occupying the fish’s head, and the causes for any problems stemming from its spine.

The fishbone diagram helps managers identify all the causes behind an issue or flaw, which is essential in ensuring a quality product or service. After all, you want to solve problems in the world, not create more.


This method can also be used to identify any potential issues as well, enabling managers to prevent them before they ever arise.

Are Fishbone Diagrams Still Relevant?

Fishbone diagrams were first used in the 1920s as a form of quality assurance. Its use was later revived during the 1960s by Karou Ishikawa at the Kawasaki shipyards, again, as a form of problem-solving.

The fishbone diagram has been around for a century. Even though other forms of problem-solving and quality assurance exist, they’re a fundamental formula that every manager should know.

How to Use a Fishbone Diagram

The practical application of this concept is very simple and easy to understand (it’s a quick sketch, after all), but your particular business, product, or service may need to be paid special attention to.

Your first task is to draw a simplified fish skeleton – all it takes is one horizontal line, and six vertical lines – evenly spaced – stemming from that. Easy enough, but here’s where it may get tricky.

Variation, Your Biggest Enemy

When you want to deliver a particular product or service, you can’t leave anything up to chance. You need to account for every possible variable and keep them all in check. Specific processes are your friend, and having too much variation in those processes will ultimately lead to a variation in quality.

The fishbone diagram helps you track all those variables. Highlighting them forces you to confront them as issues all on their own, and ultimately, will help ensure a better product or service.

What Are Some Variables to Watch Out For?

The potential sources of variation are numerous and manifold, but most of them will inevitably fall into the following categories.

  • Methods: General quality assurance policies or regulations, and how you go about things; is there not enough structure to your methodologies?
  • Measurements: How you measure quality, or how the process is monitored; is everyone doing what they’re supposed to? How can you refine this process?
  • Materials: What your product or service uses in their construction or application; are the materials defective or faulty? Can they be improved?
  • Machinery: Similar to materials, this refers to the quality of the tools you use in delivering that product; do computers need updating? Do assembly-line robots need upgrading?
  • Environment: Anything outside your business; it may seem out of your control, but some environmental issues can be solved.
Organization Planning: How to Use a Fishbone Diagram


You will find a great deal of use with fishbone diagrams. While they are simple in nature, their value cannot be understated

A quick sketch on a page can help you highlight any problems your business may have, force you to confront and solve those problems, and ultimately deliver a better product or service at the end of the day. So don’t overlook these fishy graphics – they may save your life.