How to Make a Fishbone Diagram: Steps & Format

Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

Read this lesson to learn how to create your own fishbone diagram. Learn how to use the fishbone diagram to help organize information, and to find potential causes of personal and business problems.

Fishbone Diagram

A fishbone diagram, put simply, is a diagram that looks like the skeleton of a fish. It's also called a cause and effect diagram because that is what it is used for: to find the causes of a problem. The problem is called the effect. Fishbone diagrams are also known as Ishikawa diagrams because these diagrams were originally developed in 1943 by Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa at the University of Tokyo.

make fishbone diagram

In this lesson, you'll learn how to create a fishbone diagram. By doing so, you'll see just how useful these diagrams can be. Here is a diagram that illustrates the problem of slow sales at a kitchen knives business, and what potential causes may have created this effect.

make fishbone diagram

Format of a Fishbone Diagram

First, let's take a look at the format of a fishbone diagram. Observe the fishbone diagram of the slow sales problem, and notice that the problem makes up the head of the fishbone. Next the spine of the fish is drawn extending from the head. You may have the head of the fishbone pointing either to the left or right. Then the causes of the problem are arranged as branches off the main spine. Each major cause also has sub-causes; these sub-causes tell you the why of the major cause. For example, the cause of vacation time has a why of not thinking about knives. This tells you that when people are on vacation, they don't think about knives, and thus aren't as inclined to purchase knives while on vacation.

Creating a Fishbone Diagram

Now, let's create a fishbone diagram together.

Think of a problem you want to solve. This can be either a personal problem or a business problem. Let's say you have a dog that barks while you are away at work, and your neighbors are starting to complain. Thus, your problem is the barking dog; this problem becomes the head of your fishbone. Write it down and then draw a spine extending to the left from your problem. Note the arrow of the spine points toward the head, because that is the direction of the information flow.

make fishbone diagram

You may draw your fishbone diagram on a single sheet of paper, or if this is a team activity, you may choose to draw it on a whiteboard.

Now, think of some possible causes as to why your dog is barking. These will become your branches and sub-branches. Draw the branches pointing toward the spine, and the sub-branches pointing toward each respective branch.

One cause of the barking might be passing cars. Therefore, draw a branch pointing toward the spine and label it passing cars. Now ask yourself why passing cars would make your dog bark? Well, for one, the cars may be loud and two, they may scare your dog. So now draw two sub-branches pointing toward the passing cars branch.

make fishbone diagram

If this is a team activity, instead of writing the causes directly on your fishbone diagram, you may alternately use post-it notes. This gives you the ability to move the suggested causes around as needed, and to organize the information as the team brainstorms.

Returning to the barking dog problem, continue finding causes and also sub-causes that explain the why to the causes. Continue until you can't think of any other potential causes. Your finished fishbone diagram might look like this:

make fishbone diagram

Another Example

Let's try making another fishbone diagram.

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