Fishbone Analysis

Fish for the root cause



Collaboratively finding the root causes of a problem and experiment with ways to tackle them.


Do you feel like you are constantly firefighting? Does this put a heavy stamp on both results and quality? Do these quality problems regularly cause disruptions? Does Murphy come by way more often than you’d like? Then it is good to take the time to find the root cause of your problems.



Play Video

In this whiteboard training video, Christian Loyer presents the powerful yet simple tool that is the Fishbone diagram, also known as the Ishikiwa diagram.

Fishbone, or Ishikawa, diagrams are a great tool for broadening the scope of possible direct first level causes. To keep your problem solving overview clear for both yourself and your stakeholders, Tom Mentink suggests you follow up with a 5 why analysis of a few selected causes.

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To Work

Here are the steps to find root causes to a problem you face.

  1. Collaboratively determine which problem your team wants to tackle and write the result as briefly and clearly as possible on a sticky note.
  2. Draw a fishbone diagram and stick the sticky note with the problem on the head of the fish. For each bone, write down a category of possible causes, for example: “Human, Machine, Material and Method”, or “Team, Environment, Process and Control”.
  3. Everyone silently writes possible causes of the problem on sticky notes for 5 minutes and sticks them to a bone in the most appropriate category.
  4. Collaboratively deduplicate the notes, ask each other clarifying questions and improve the descriptions where necessary or add more in-depth causes.
  5. Collaboratively determine the most important causes (for example by dot-voting).
  6. Elaborate on the selected causes in a fresh fishbone or by using the 5 times why approach to find the root cause.
  7. Collaboratively determine which of the root causes is essential to tackle now. Design an approach for this. This can lead to a concrete action or to a small experiment to be carried out to test the assumptions made.
  8. Evaluate after implementation: discuss the effect of the performed action. If necessary, design a follow-up action or experiment.


The fishbone diagram or Ishikawa diagram has its origins in LEAN, derived from the Toyota Way of Working.

You find a more detailed description of this technique in section 6.4 Fishbone Diagram in our book Connective Teamwork (EN, NL). The book helps you set your team in motion with a practical 5-step plan and 20 teamwork techniques.

You can learn more about and practice this technique in our Connective Team Coach Training Course.

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