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Fish-Bone Diagrams/Theory (cause & effect theory)


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What is the fishbone diagram or fishbone theory?

The fishbone diagram is also known as the cause and effect diagram, herringbone diagram, Ishikawa diagram, or Fishikawa.

Dr.Kaoru Ishikawa created this diagram to show the potential causes of a particular event.

This fishbone diagram was first used at Kawasaki shipyards in 1960.

It helps managers in tracking down the reasons for failures, defects, variations, and imperfections.

Why is the diagram commonly known as fishbone and how it works?

The diagram shows a resemblance to a fish’s skeleton that is why it is named fishbone. The problems are specified at its head and the spine is used for feeding the causes of the problem.

Once all the problems and their causes are identified managers can find solutions to solve the problem and ensure it not to be recurring in nature.

For example, this diagram was used in designing the Mazda Miata car. Various issues identified like designing the door of the sports car so that it can provide rest to the driver’s arms while driving was solved through this fishbone diagram.

Types of fishbone diagram

 1. The 5 M’s fishbone (used in manufacturing)

It originated with the Toyota production system and Lean manufacturing for identifying root cause analysis

  • Measurement (environment, instruction, medium)
  •  Method (process)
  •   Material ( information, consumables, raw material
  •   Machine (technology, equipment)
  • Manpower (knowledge of physical work include suggestions or kaizen)

2. The 8 P’s fishbone (used in product marketing)

It is used in planning in product marketing for identifying the crucial attributes

  •  Performance
  •  Physical evidence
  •   Process
  •  Personal
  •  Promotion
  •   Place
  •  Price
  •  Product

3. The 4 S’s fishbone (used in service industries)

It provides 4 categories of causes that can be used as an alternative for service industries

  •  Scale
  •   Systems
  •  Suppliers
  • Surroundings

The 5 Why technique of fishbone diagram

The fishbone diagram uses the five whys technique to find out the root cause of each identified potential cause.

Here, presenting an example.

The problem my car is not starting

  •  Why? – the first reason denotes if the battery is dead.
  •  Why? – the second one shows whether the alternator is not working.
  •  Why?- the third signifies a broken alternator belt.
  •  Why?- the fourth reason shows that the alternator belt was not replaced and used beyond its life.
  • Why?- the fifth why denotes a root cause that is the vehicle not maintained as recommended in the service schedule.

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Fishbone diagram procedure

  •  Agree and mark a problem statement or effect
  •  Agree on the categories of the causes due to which a problem arose
  •  Brainstorm the possible causes associated with the problem such as why it happened
  •  Again ask why and write some causes and generate layers of branches indicating relationships of the causes
  • Now identify the root cause and provide solutions to prevent future problems.

Advantages of fishbone diagram

  •  It provides good visualization for representing various issues to the stakeholders.
  •  We can see all possible causes simultaneously.
  •  It quickly identifies whether the root cause is repeating multiple times in the different or the same causal tree.
  • It can show you many examples of the root causes which makes it a highly visual tool for brainstorming.

Disadvantages of fishbone diagram

  •  It does not easily identify the interrelationship between causes.
  • It becomes visually cluttering if a lot of causes arise due to Complex defects.


From the above discussion, we understand that fishbone is a great process improvement tool used to find out significant factors that are involved in a process.

By using fishbone, the meetings can be made Better by focusing on defect reduction and process improvement. The cross-functional team must create this diagram that will cultivate their knowledge and build trust between the departments and provide an understanding of the key players involved in the process.

The above-provided sample will also help you out in production management assignments as sometimes examination questions might be asked on this. 

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