How to use a fishbone diagram – with free template!

A fishbone diagram helps you discover the connection between cause and effect. Download our free template and start your fishbone analysis! 


What’s a fishbone diagram?

A fishbone diagram, or Ishikawa diagram, charts the possible causes of problems, using a diagram in the shape of a fishbone. Kaoru Ishikawa originally developed the method in 1982.

The fishbone diagram essentially leans on four Ms: Man, Machine, Material, and Method. Every ‘bone’ has its part within the diagram:

Man. All people involved with the problem

Machine. All machines and tools used in the workspace

Method. All prescribed and usual work instructions

Material. All required raw and ancillary materials

The Measurements and Milieu Ms can be added too:

Measurements. Process data used for quality control

Milieu. Process conditions, like organizational culture, location, time, and temperature

How do you use the fishbone diagram?

1. Download the template to get the basic fishbone. When you and your group fill in the diagram for the first time, enlarge the diagram and use a whiteboard. Then, write the problem on the right side of the template. Make sure you have an accurate description of the problem!

2. Brainstorm possible causes. The goal of brainstorming is to get lots of ideas, it’s not about the quality of those ideas. Don’t judge, just write down.

3. Assess the causes together, so the most usable and realistic ideas remain.

4. Categorize the causes towards the Ms and fill in the fishbone diagram.

From fishbone diagram to fishbone analysis

After filling in the fishbone diagram, it’s time to take the next step: the fishbone analysis. The goal of a fishbone analysis is to:

1. Clarify what causes can lead to a specific problem

2. Show how different causes are related

During the last step you’ll search for underlying connections between different causes. It‘s possible you’ll find surprising causes that change the way you look at a potential solution. Does it seem hard to find the underlying cause? Then ask the “Why” question five times to get to the core. 

Using the outcome of the fishbone analysis

Once you have an idea of the cause you can focus on the end goal: improving the process.

Curious whether Cierpa can help you with that? Then contact us for advice or an online demo of one of our software modules.



Cierpa Software enables you to improve your organization continuously. LEAN manufacturing changes your work floor processes towards better and faster results and ultimately reduces any waste. With our LEAN software for companies, it’s possible to manage this ongoing process quickly and easily. Our Cierpa improvement consultants can also offer help.

Techniques and methods like 5S audit, Kaizen, OEE and the underlying LEAN thought principles are at the very core of our software suite. With Cierpa OEE, Cierpa Kaizen, Cierpa Quality, Cierpa Competence and Cierpa Assessment, Cierpa Software really speeds up all your improvement processes!

More news & tips on 5s, OEE and Kaizen?
Please subscribe to our newsletter! (approx. 6 times per year in dutch)

How to use a fishbone diagram – with free template!