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Fishbone diagram template for fast root cause analysis

Zoe Averbuch 8 min read
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Cause and effect are critical factors for project teams or anyone working to improve a process, as it lets you make informed decisions when changes arise throughout a process. A cause and effect diagram — or fishbone diagram — helps teams or individuals brainstorm root causes so they’re better positioned to create more viable solutions or improvements.

At first glance, these diagrams look a bit complex, but the premise behind them is fairly simple. We’ll walk you through problem-solving with these diagrams, and you’ll also find a Fishbone Diagram Template you can use right away for brainstorming sessions on

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What is a fishbone diagram template?

A fishbone diagram — also sometimes called an Ishikawa diagram, after its inventor — is a brainstorming tool designed to force teams to look at the cause and effect relationship between inputs and outputs. When one of these diagrams is completed during a meeting or individual brainstorming session, the results usually look somewhat like the skeleton of a fish.

A fishbone diagram template is a blank diagram with space for recording a problem statement or final outcome as well as categories or affinities and the inputs relevant to each.

The components of a fishbone diagram template include:

  • The fish head: On the right-hand side of the diagram, you record the problem or final outcome you’re dealing with in a shape that represents the fish head.
  • The fish spine: A single line extends to the left, tying the problem or final output to the rest of the diagram.
  • Fish bones: Lines extend off the central line for each category or affinity.
  • Input spaces: Additional lines or spaces extend off the category or affinity lines, providing space so you can record individual inputs.

Why use a fishbone diagram template?

The main advantage of a fishbone diagram template is that it provides individuals and teams with some structure for brainstorming that can be used again and again. When using a digital template — like the one on — it’s even easier to update the diagram as you go and keeps things moving swiftly even when challenges are identified

Digital templates also let the team see updates in real time as they discuss root causes, driving more effective analysis. Teams can better categorize inputs and provide a clear record to circle back to for review based on factors such as:

  • Overall impact on the final outcome
  • How easy they might be to change
  • Whether they are required or not

Who should use a fishbone diagram?

These diagrams are also versatile — you can use them in software development, banking, manufacturing, and even home renovation or DIY projects. This is because you can expand the fishbone diagram’s core structure to fit many use cases, which we will learn about next.

Examples of fishbone diagram templates

The main difference across fishbone diagram templates is which affinities or categories you start with and how many you include. You can use a simple fishbone template for a customized approach or start with a 4S, an 8P, or a 6M fishbone. The latter three options are preset with categories that are most commonly used in specific industries.

Simple fishbone

Since the simple fishbone template comes without preset affinities or categories, it works for almost any purpose. Say you’re a supply chain leader and your company’s product sales have slowed. You can pinpoint the issue(s) using a fishbone diagram for a transparent view of pricing, quality, advertising, and sales.

Fishbone diagrams let teams create categories that are most important or relevant for their field or project. For example, dev teams working on a software deployment work in categories that differ from clinical teams working to reduce patient readmission rates.

4S fishbone

The 4S approach is a favorite for service industry teams that want to create a fishbone diagram to solve challenges by pinpointing potential causes. It’s also helpful in identifying a manufacturing plant’s internal processes. The 4S fishbone template starts with the following categories:

  • Surroundings: Inputs related to locations and environments
  • Suppliers: Inputs related to vendors and anyone else that supplies resources, including materials and labor
  • Skills: Inputs related to skills that employees, leadership, vendors, and other parties bring to the table
  • Systems: Inputs related to software, equipment, and processes

8P fishbone

The 8P approach includes more categories and is common in service industries like retail, hospitality, and food. You can use the template in a variety of other areas, such as administrative functions and manufacturing processes, especially with a few modifications. Service industries use the 8P fishbone diagram to analyze:

  • Price: Inputs related to cost or pricing
  • People: Inputs related to personnel
  • Place/Plant: Inputs related to work locations and environments
  • Procedures: Inputs related to prescribed procedures or habits for getting tasks done
  • Promotion: Inputs related to sales and marketing
  • Processes: Inputs related to what is supposed to happen and how
  • Product: Inputs related directly to the product
  • Policies: Inputs related to governing policies for processes or procedures

6M fishbone

The 6M fishbone includes preset categories that work well for manufacturing teams or for anyone working to make a product. A 6M fishbone template typically includes categories for:

  • Measurements: Inputs related to inspections or measurements
  • Machines: Inputs related to equipment, tools, and facilities
  • Man: Inputs related to labor and skills
  • Mother Nature: Inputs related to environmental factors
  • Methods: Inputs related to processes
  • Materials: Inputs related to raw goods and other required components

If choosing the right categories is the first step in success with cause-and-effect diagrams, the second step is ensuring you record the diagram so the team can refer to it and work from it in the future. lets you create fishbone diagrams from templates and capture the information gathered in working sessions for use on boards or in other templates.

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Start using’s fishbone diagram template Work OS provides teams with the functionality required to execute seamless, productive brainstorming sessions. That’s true whether you’re working on a continuous improvement project or simply addressing challenges discovered in day-to-day processes.

You can create dynamic, visual process flows to capture current and desired workflow as teams brainstorm future states. Or you might rely on color-coded Gantt charts to keep teams on the same page and timeline with processes or project efforts.

We make it easy for teams of all types and sizes to leverage tried-and-true project management and productivity tools to drive efficiencies, maximize work on great ideas, and keep communication clear and open. Start with our Fishbone Diagram Template to experience some of these benefits if you’re working to define root causes. With it you can:

  • Map out the cause and effects of issues or challenges to best identify solutions and improvements
  • Benefit from both a flexible board and our visual whiteboard for brainstorming
  • Add actionable items that you can assign due dates and owners

Then check out some of our other project management templates. Whether you need an easy way to record project goals or conduct more specific root cause analyses, templates are great tools to start with.

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Related templates

You can find hundreds of project management templates in our Template Center. Consider starting with one of the options below to streamline communication and project oversight as you work with others toward success:

  • Single project template: Customize a board to capture and track information to help you and your team execute a single project. Start with our Single Project Template and then move on to kanban views, Gantt charts, and other features to make project work easier.
  • IT root cause analysis template: Dev and technical teams can solve problems and drill down to root causes with our IT Root Cause Analysis Template.

FAQs about fishbone diagrams

How many types of fishbone diagrams are there?

Technically, a fishbone is a specific type of diagram. You can create variations by changing the categories or affinities you start with. Some fishbone diagrams only have four categories while others have six or eight. You can add as many categories as you need, though each one you add increases the complexity of your analysis.

Is there a fishbone diagram in Word?

Microsoft Word doesn’t have a built-in fishbone diagram. You can make one in Word using the “insert shapes” and “draw” functions. You might also find templates online people created for use in Word, but it won’t be as intuitive as a Work OS.

Is there a fishbone diagram in Excel?

Excel also doesn’t have a built-in fishbone diagram, but you can make one using shapes and other drawing features in spreadsheets. You might also find downloadable Excel fishbone diagrams other people created and are willing to share.

Turn brainstorming sessions into action plans with

Getting your team together in the conference room or on a Zoom session is a great start to problem-solving. Your second step should be capturing the discussion and ideas generated by brainstorming to drive future decisions and action.

Our Fishbone Diagram Template is ideal for quickly recording important factors from discussions about cause and effect. You can customize many of our other templates and boards to record and work with all types of information.

Zoe is a New Jersey native gone Telavivian and marketing fanatic. On a typical day, you can find her writing about the latest in tech whilst making her 10th cup of coffee.
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