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  • What Is a Fishbone Diagram? | Templates & Examples

What Is a Fishbone Diagram? | Templates & Examples

Published on January 2, 2023 by Tegan George .

A fishbone diagram is a problem-solving approach that uses a fish-shaped diagram to model possible root causes of problems and troubleshoot possible solutions. It is also called an Ishikawa diagram, after its creator, Kaoru Ishikawa, as well as a herringbone diagram or cause-and-effect diagram.

Fishbone diagrams are often used in root cause analysis , to troubleshoot issues in quality management or product development. They are also used in the fields of nursing and healthcare, or as a brainstorming and mind-mapping technique many students find helpful.

Table of contents

How to make a fishbone diagram, fishbone diagram templates, fishbone diagram examples, advantages and disadvantages of fishbone diagrams, frequently asked questions about fishbone diagrams.

A fishbone diagram is easy to draw, or you can use a template for an online version.

There are no built-in fishbone diagram templates in Microsoft programs, but we’ve made a few free ones for you to use that you can download below. Alternatively, you can make one yourself using the following steps:

Lastly, add text boxes to label each function.

You can try your hand at filling one in yourself using the various blank fishbone diagram templates below, in the following formats:

Fishbone diagram template Excel

Download our free Excel template below!


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Fishbone diagram template Word

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Fishbone diagram template PowerPoint

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Fishbone diagrams are used in a variety of settings, both academic and professional. They are particularly popular in healthcare settings, particularly nursing, or in group brainstorm study sessions. In the business world, they are an often-used tool for quality assurance or human resources professionals.

Fishbone diagram example #1: Climate change

Let’s start with an everyday example: what are the main causes of climate change?


Fishbone diagram example #2: Healthcare and nursing

Fishbone diagrams are often used in nursing and healthcare to diagnose patients with unclear symptoms, or to streamline processes or fix ongoing problems. For example: why have surveys shown a decrease in patient satisfaction?


Fishbone diagram example #3: Quality assurance

QA professionals also use fishbone diagrams to troubleshoot usability issues, such as: why is the website down?


Fishbone diagram example #4: HR

Lastly, an HR example: why are employees leaving the company?


Fishbone diagrams come with advantages and disadvantages.


Fishbone diagrams have a few different names that are used interchangeably, including herringbone diagram, cause-and-effect diagram, and Ishikawa diagram.

These are all ways to refer to the same thing– a problem-solving approach that uses a fish-shaped diagram to model possible root causes of problems and troubleshoot solutions.

Fishbone diagrams (also called herringbone diagrams, cause-and-effect diagrams, and Ishikawa diagrams) are most popular in fields of quality management. They are also commonly used in nursing and healthcare, or as a brainstorming technique for students.

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About Fishbone Diagram

Fishbone Resources

Fishbone Related Topics

Quality Glossary Definition: Fishbone diagram

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Also called: cause-and-effect diagram, Ishikawa diagram

Variations: cause enumeration diagram, process fishbone, time-delay fishbone, CEDAC (cause-and-effect diagram with the addition of cards), desired-result fishbone, reverse fishbone diagram  This cause analysis tool  is considered one of the seven basic quality tools . The fishbone diagram identifies many possible causes for an effect or problem. It can be used to structure a brainstorming session. It immediately sorts ideas into useful categories.

When to Use a Fishbone Diagram

Fishbone Diagram Procedure

Fishbone Diagram

Fishbone Diagram Example

Materials needed:  marking pens and flipchart or whiteboard.

This fishbone diagram was drawn by a manufacturing team to try to understand the source of periodic iron contamination. The team used the six generic headings to prompt ideas. Layers of branches show thorough thinking about the causes of the problem.

For example, under the heading "Machines," the idea "materials of construction" shows four kinds of equipment and then several specific machine numbers.

Note that some ideas appear in two different places. "Calibration" shows up under "Methods" as a factor in the analytical procedure, and also under "Measurement" as a cause of lab error. "Iron tools" can be considered a "Methods" problem when taking samples or a "Manpower" problem with maintenance personnel. 

Create a Fishbone Diagram

Start using the fishbone diagram template  and analyze process dispersion with this simple, visual tool. The resulting diagram illustrates the main causes and subcauses leading to an effect (symptom). 

Fishbone Diagram Resources

You can also search articles , case studies , and publications  for fishbone diagram resources.

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Quality Nugget: Creating Ishikawa (Fishbone) Diagrams With R ( Software Quality Professional ) A fishbone diagram connects causal links in major categories with an outcome, or effect. This article explains how to make one with the Six Sigma package in R.

Fish(bone) Stories ( Quality Progress ) The method behind the fishbone diagram is older than many of its users. The authors explore how digitizing one of the seven basic quality tools—the fishbone diagram—using mind mapping can significantly improve the tool.

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fishbone method of solving problems


How to Avoid Rushing to Solutions When Problem-Solving

fishbone method of solving problems

Four steps to help you think things through.

Before you can solve a problem, you need to know what exactly you’re trying to solve. Unfortunately, too many of us want to rush to conclusions before clearly understanding the problem. The author describes a four-step process that helps you define the problem. First, don’t just rely on the data. Take facts, especially observable ones, into account. Second, consider how you’re framing the problem statement. It should present the problem in a way that allows for multiple solutions, and make sure it’s focused on observable facts, not opinions, judgments, or interpretations. Third, think backwards from the problem to analyze the potential factors that lead to it. Lastly, ask “why” repeatedly before you settle on a conclusion to make sure you investigate root causes. These four steps don’t guarantee a solution, of course. But they will provide a more clearly defined problem, and while that’s less immediately gratifying, it’s a necessary step to finding something that really works.

Albert Einstein reportedly said that if he had an hour to solve a problem, he’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions. But Einstein wasn’t trying to run a company in the midst of a pandemic, when most of us are working longer hours and making new decisions each day on issues from childcare to employee safety. Between our cognitive biases and our finite capacity for decision making, when our mental gas tank runs low on fuel, we tend to conserve energy by either avoiding decisions or rushing to solutions before we have a chance to fully understand the problem we’re grappling with.

It’s understandable that we leap to solutions. Crossing items of one’s to-do list and fixing problems provides a dopamine surge that is comforting, especially when the world around us feels more volatile and threatening. Nevertheless, an ineffective Band-Aid solution can make things worse, and can be just as damaging in the long run as the problem it’s trying to solve. In my work as a leadership consultant, I’ve devised a simple, four-step process that can help you get past the urge to rush to solutions.

1. Go and See

It’s easy to jump to lousy solutions when you don’t have a strong grasp of the facts — and you can’t get that if you don’t leave your desk, your office, or your conference room. Gathering facts comes from close observation.

Spreadsheets and reports, which we often rely on are just data, two-dimensional representations of reality. Data tells you how often a machine breaks down on an assembly line. Facts — meaning direct observations — show you that the machine is dirty, covered in oil, and hasn’t been cleaned or maintained in a long time.

Data tells you that workers are not on time for their Zoom meetings. Facts — garnered from interviews with your employees — reveal that 9:00am meetings are tough because parents are getting their kids settled for online school; 12:30pm meetings are challenging because they’re making lunch for their kids; and that the headlong rush to videoconferencing has all but eliminated the necessary downtime between meetings, and people just need some time for rest.

Data without facts gives you a two-dimensional, black-and-white view of the world. Facts without data give you color and texture, but not the detailed insight you’ll need to solve the thorniest problems. Therefore, to arrive at useful conclusions, take both into consideration.

2. Frame Your Problem Properly

Problem statements are deceptively difficult to get right for several reasons. For one, it’s easy to mistake the symptoms for the underlying problem. For example, you might assume that to help a child in Flint, Michigan who has behavioral issues in school and struggle with reading comprehension, you need to focus on those problems. But those are only symptoms. The real problem is lead in the municipal water system.

A well-framed problem statement opens up avenues of discussion and options. A bad problem statement closes down alternatives and quickly sends you into a cul-de-sac of facile thinking.

Consider these two problem statements:

Notice that the first statement isn’t really a problem at all. It’s a solution. The only possible response to needing more ventilators is … to buy more ventilators. What’s the solution to the second problem statement? It’s unclear — which is a good thing, because it pushes us to think more deeply. Avoiding the implicit judgment (we need more machines) raises questions that help us develop better solutions: How many machines are currently being repaired? Are we doing enough preventative maintenance to keep all of them operable? Do we know where all of the ventilators are, or do nurses keep some of them in “hidden stashes” ( a real problem at most hospitals ). What’s the turnaround time to move a ventilator from one patient to the next? Do other local hospitals have excess capacity, and is it possible to share with them?

If you see that your problem statement has only one solution, rethink it. Begin with observable facts, not opinions, judgments, or interpretations.

3. Think Backwards

When facing a problem, instead of leaping forward toward a solution, go backwards to map out how you got here in the first place.

This fishbone diagram, also known as the Ishikawa diagram, provides a model for identifying potential factors causing your problem:

fishbone method of solving problems

The classic fishbone diagram has six categories of factors, but this isn’t a rule; you might have four categories or seven, and your categories might be different. Think of them as prompts to help you organize your thoughts. A law firm, for example, probably won’t need the equipment category, while a software company might want to include a branch for programming language.

fishbone method of solving problems

If your firm is struggling with lower morale and employee engagement during the pandemic, you might group contributing factors into the following categories: Work Environment, Technology, Psychology, Communication, and Norms. These prompts will lead you to examine how challenging it is for people to work from home; how well your collaboration software (and people’s computer equipment) supports group work; how effectively the company creates opportunities for people to connect with coworkers; how well leadership’s messages reach employees; and what cultural norms and expectations are applicable to a work from home reality.

Asking “why” repeatedly before you settle on an answer is a powerful way to avoid jumping to conclusions or implementing weak solutions. Whether you ask five times, or three, or as many as 11, eventually you’ll get to the root cause, as each question pushes you to a deeper understanding of the real problem. Finding the root cause ensures that you have a durable solution, not a Band-Aid that treats the symptoms. For example, asking, “Why aren’t our employees wearing the mandated PPE all the time?” might reveal that you don’t have enough PPE in stock, because of a holdup in purchasing. The obvious — and ineffective — solution would be to send a stern memo to the purchasing department instructing them to expedite shipments. But a deeper inquiry with further “whys” would reveal that suppliers weren’t delivering on time because the accounting team was stretching out payments in order to conserve cash. . . at the direction of the CEO.

As H.L. Mencken said, “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is clear, simple, and wrong.” These four steps don’t actually guarantee a solution. But they will provide you with a more clearly defined problem. And although that’s less immediately gratifying, it’s a necessary step to finding something that really works.

fishbone method of solving problems

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fishbone 2021 header

fishbone 2021 header

Learning Objectives

After completing the lesson you will be able to:

1)  Define  root cause analysis (RCA)

2)  Demonstrate RCA using a Fishbone Diagram 

Case Study: “Why don’t we get paged sooner?”

At an HCI Clinic, providers are often delayed in how soon they see a patient during a new visit appointment. Typical delays (wait time) from check-in to provider page was 20 minutes. This 20-minute delay presented a cascade of problems for patients and care teams. For patients, it limited face-to-face time with a provider. For residents, the lack of time hindered care - building rapport with patients, potentially missing important details that help inform the care plan. The delay also caused resident job dissatisfaction. To identify all the moving parts in this complex (yet seemingly simple) problem, the team turned to the fishbone diagram as a useful tool to investigate the multiple causes of delay.

Health care’s problem solving toolkit

health care, we rely on evidence-based methods for solving problems. Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is a collective term that describes a wide range of approaches used to investigate a problem and its causes.

When we talk about a problem we often refer to its impact. We know how it impacts us personally, our system, patients, and/or customers. But our experience of the problem—it’s impact—doesn’t really tell us why it’s happening—the cause. If we don’t know the cause, we won’t be able to prevent it from happening again. Investigating a problem and its causes can result in long-term solutions, which is an essential part of our patient safety journey .

Fishbone Diagram

Fishbone thumb.

fishbone thumb

Download the Fishbone Diagram Quick Tips here .

Download a U of U Health PowerPoint Fishbone Diagram template here .

An easy to use tool for conducting a root cause analysis

What it is: The fishbone diagram Also referred to as “Ishikawa cause and effect” after Japanese founder and quality control expert Kaoru Ishikawa. is a tool to organize ideas and theories about what causes a problem or an event.

How it works: Teams work together to brainstorm and identify potential causes and group them into several categories to help highlight potential issues. Frequently used categories include people (or patients/providers/stakeholders), culture, method (or process), technology, equipment, supplies, etc. (customize categories as needed).

Follow Four Steps to Fishbone:

Fishbone steps4 01.

fishbone steps4 01

Three Tips for facilitating a fishbone

A successful fishbone diagram is led by a facilitator—one individual on the team who’s job is to remain impartial to the discussion, write down the identified causes on the fishbone diagram, and let the participant discussion flow freely.

Here are the top three tips for leading a successful fishbone:

#1: Help the team focus on identifying causes, not solutions.  It’s common for people to brainstorm solutions (how to fix), rather than causes (what to fix). Simply acknowledge any comments by writing them to the side (don’t disregard any comments, it’s demoralizing) and help everyone remember the difference between the two. For example, if the problem is delays at patient check-in, “add front desk personnel” offers a solution (how to fix). Whereas “front desk is short-staffed” focuses on a potential cause (what to fix).

#2: The cause is more important than the category.  People often get confused or stuck on what category a cause should go into. As a facilitator, remind the participants that listing the cause is more important than where it goes. For example, “front desk is short-staffed” could be placed under the category of People, but also Culture.

Sometimes a main category can become too big. A common one is to start with the “People” category, but by the time 10 causes are identified under that category, you may choose to split it, for example as: “Nurses” and “Doctors.”

#3: Keep brainstorming until the ideas run out.  People are often unsure of how many causes to identify. As long as the discussion keeps going, people are still brainstorming. When the silence starts to creep in, you have your first clue that perhaps you have enough to get started. 

As facilitator, you will write the statements as they come out during the discussion. If you have to paraphrase what was said (because of space requirements, complexity, etc.) confirm with the group that what you wrote was what was said.

See it applied

Returning to our introduction case study, the Oncology residents first mapped the process to identify where it was breaking down. They then brainstormed as a team and came up with the following categories and causes.

HCI Huntsman Clinic Check in to Provider Page Process Fishbone Diagram

fishbone full

fishbone full

Oncology team: Lindsay Burt, MD; Chris Baker, MD; Chris Weil, MD; Josh Gruhl, MD; Matthew arsons, MD; Ryan Hutten, MD; Ryan Kraus, MD; Timothy Griffith MD

Solving the age-old problems of health care doesn’t require more solutions. It requires better understanding of problems. The oncology residents found the fishbone a useful tool to illustrate how many variables contribute to a seemingly simple question: “why don’t we get paged sooner?” By breaking the problem into a series of categorized causes, the team identified overlap between workflows. Using this information, the team is now prioritizing causes from high-to-low effort to begin making improvements.

*Originally published Janurary 2021

Finding evidence to change the status quo isn’t easy; thinking about evidence in terms of how it persuades—whether subjective or objective—can make it easier. Plastic surgery resident Dino Maglić and his colleagues followed their guts and saved money by improving the laceration trays used to treat patients in the emergency department.

Why do some organizations thrive during a crisis while others flounder? Iona Thraen, director of patient safety, joined forces with her ARUP Laboratory colleagues to learn how the world-renowned national reference lab adapted to the pandemic. Leaders created a culture of safety by putting innovation, learning, and patient-centered care at the heart of all their efforts.

The Zero Suicide initiative has been shown to significantly reduce suicides—and working toward zero suicides is our mission. Rachael Jasperson, Zero Suicide program manager, shares the framework for how we strive for this aspirational goal.

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fishbone method of solving problems

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How to Use Fishbone Diagram for Problem Solving

Fishbone diagram is a problem-solving tool, used in literal terms like a fishbone. It is also known as a cause and effect diagram. The mechanism is to specifically identify the cause and effect of any business or project problem.

A fishbone diagram can help define potential reasons for an issue. This article will dive into understanding the core principles of the fishbone diagram problem solving as a tool.

In 1943 at Tokyo University, Kaoru Ishikawa created the "Fishbone Diagram." Fishbone diagrams can also be called diagrams of "cause and effect." The fishbone diagram problem solving tool is a perfect tool to dig through an issue when we try to assess the root cause and find a solution effectively.

It offers a mechanism for explicitly identifying the "effect" and then brings you to think about the potential triggers, based on typical manufacturing problems. The fishbone diagram problem solving is a basic model that makes it easy to grasp swift and efficient root causes to implement corrective behavior.

It reflects the question or impact at the fish's head or mouth. Possible contributing factors under separate causal groups are identified on the smaller "bones." A fishbone diagram can help define potential reasons for an issue that would otherwise not be discussed by encouraging the team to look through the definitions and discuss alternate reasons.

fishbone diagram problem solving

Source: EdrawMind

1.1 Why Use Fishbone Diagram for Problem Solving

The fishbone diagram makes you consider more when solving specific problems. During a brainstorming activity, various groups inspire thoughts from different areas.

The fishbone diagram brings order to the process of cause and effect . It's easy for participants to understand the main problems or issues and focus on the question across different potential triggers.

The fishbone diagram helps distinguish the causes and reasons for a problem and lets people intuitively figure out the solutions.

1.2 The Usage of Fishbone Diagram

The fishbone diagram problem solving method can be used when trying to fix problems or discover the root cause of an issue or problem, which helps you to see below the surface, and dive deeper into the real problem.

Here are several typical fishbone diagram problem solving applications:

There are 7 steps lead you to use fishbone diagram for problem solving:

fishbone diagram problem solving

Let your team members know that the diagram can help you see different fields or possible areas that might lead to a solution to your current business problem.

Draw the pattern or shape on your whiteboard, or use a software diagramming tool to ease accessibility. If you need remote attendants to do this exercise, you can quickly build it in EdrawMind and display your computer.

Write down statements at the top of your page or above where you will build the diagram., which means everyone has the same idea of the issue you are concerned with.

Categories are discussed in more detail below. For example, you can add Policies, Methods, Personnel, and Software categories.

Team members may trigger brainstorming or contribute factors that fall into this category. You can either go by category or only come up with ideas and determine which type they fit.

If you decide whether something can or will break down to smaller points, build divisions from the critical point.

Team members study the diagram to determine the most relevant focus points. If you are trying to take this a step forward and fix the root cause, it helps define where you're trying to benefit your initiative. You can't solve all the root factors at once, and some can get more significant payoff than others. Check the diagram for an evaluation of where the concentration of the team is best.

You bring the work in. Capture, and log your work. You will need to return to it later, so you don't want to miss the importance of the exercise that you got.

There are several tips that should be considered when using the fishbone diagram for solving problems:

fishbone diagram problem solving

While it takes time to create a fishbone diagram , it will help you and your team define the real causes and encourage you to strengthen the process and make permanent improvements.

Regardless, whether you are using the graphical or indented fishbone hierarchy, this process optimization method will significantly help you understand the factors involved in a process. The root causes of the event are the underlying process and system issues, which allowed the contribution. Hence fishbone diagram , the problem-solving tool, is extremely crucial when discussing strategies to deal with problems.

EdrawMind is an easy-to-use, flexible mind mapping tool designed to help you generate modern, fresh visuals and mind maps. By combining the bullet points into a mind map on a project, EdrawMind lets you organize the thoughts or concepts and create essential strategies.

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Blog Quality

Root cause analysis: how to use a fishbone diagram.

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By EASE January 20, 2021

fishbone method of solving problems

When tasked with solving a problem, brainstorming potential causes is a good place to start. However, without a way to organize the information visually, it can be hard to see how different facets of the problem interact.

One visual method of root cause analysis that helps do just that is the fishbone diagram.

Using this method allows you to visualize and organize potential causes of a problem into a useable framework for solving it. Here we look at the basics of how a fishbone diagram works, as well as some examples of how to apply it in your facility.

What is a Fishbone Diagram?

A fishbone diagram, also called an Ishikawa diagram, is a visual method for root cause analysis that organizes cause-and-effect relationships into categories.

Popularized in the 1960s, the Ishikawa diagram was used as a basic tool of quality control by Kaoru Ishikawa at the University of Tokyo. It is considered part of The Basic Seven tools of quality control today.

Over time, it was nicknamed the fishbone diagram due to its resemblance to a fish skeleton laid on its side. At the mouth goes the problem itself. Each of the bones feeding into the spine of the fish represents a specific category of potential contributors to the problem.

Example of Fishbone Diagram-EASE

While the categories can change, the most commonly used are:



Under each category is where you add elements that could impact the process associated with that cause. It’s worth noting that each category may also have various sub-causes as well. For a great example, see the American Society for Quality (ASQ) glossary entry on fishbone diagrams .

This category is for anything related to the people associated with the process. Operators are the most common group in this category, but it can also include maintenance teams, quality control specialists and supervisors.

Potential causes in this category include:

This category is for all elements related to the machines used in a process. Depending on the process, this category could capture anything from pouring robots in a foundry to printers in a book shop.

Some examples of causes in this category are:

This category is for process documents and instructions. Here is where you would review any instructions used during the process being evaluated. Look at whether the instructions accurately describe the process, if they prevent a defect from occurring or even whether a picture is clear enough.

Examples of causes here could be:

This category of the fishbone diagram captures any techniques used to measure whether a part or process meets the desired quality standards. You might include information on scales, vision systems or human inspectors here, as well as sub-causes such as:

This category captures the materials involved in a given process. Whether raw materials or inspection materials such as soapy water sprayed on a tire to detect leaks, anything added during a process can impact quality. In this area of the fishbone, you review every material that goes into a process to weigh its potential impact.

Potential factors in this category include:

This category is for relevant external factors at different points in the production process, including storage and the work area itself. For example, you might consider environmental temperature, humidity or pressure when searching for a root cause. Problems in the plant that prevent consistent environmental conditions could be the source of your troubles.

Here you might find problems in areas such as:

A fishbone diagram is a simple yet powerful way to brainstorm potential causes of problems and how they interact. Using one during your next brainstorming session can help you narrow in on the root cause of problems, giving you a holistic look at quality issues and where to focus your problem-solving.

Once you’ve identified the root cause, the next step is eliminating the chance of recurrence. The corrective action is just the start, as it’s essential to check back in on problems to ensure the fix is still in place. A layered process audit program and automated platform like EASE can help, giving you the ability to easily add questions based on corrective actions and report on findings immediately.

Ultimately, this combination of problem-solving, corrective action and high-frequency audits are key to continuous improvement, also providing a framework for a culture of quality.  

Root Cause Analysis Guidebook

Ease, Inc. is a leading provider of process performance solutions, enabling manufacturers and service providers to meet the increasingly complex demands of the connected world, while also lowering their cost of quality.

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7 Steps to a Fishbone Diagram and to Identifying Those Causes

Often referred to as a cause and effect diagram, or Ishikawa, it is a simple root cause analysis tool that is used for brainstorming issues and causes of particular problems and can and often is used in conjunction with the 5 Whys tool.

In a fishbone diagram, the various causes are grouped into categories and the causes cascade from the main categories, flowing towards the effect, forming what resembles a fishbone appearance.

The prime remit is to brainstorm all the possibilities that could cause the problem and then drill down to the factor(s) that are causing this issue. Once found, eliminate them. It enables the team to focus on why the problem occurs, and not on the history or symptoms of the problem, or other topics that digress from the intent of the session. It also displays a real-time ‘snap-shot’ of the collective inputs of the team as it is updated.

How to Conduct a Fishbone Diagram

Draw the box on the right of a flip chart or large dry wipe board, and write the problem statement in the box. Be as clear and specific as you can about the problem.

Now draw the line going from left to right as the ‘Spine’, connecting to the problem statement.

Draw the ‘fishbones’ emanating from the spine. These represent the main cause categories.

Now label each Fishbone category. There are two options here. You can use the generic cause categories of People, Method, Machine, Material, Environment, which is easier to use for a group that is relatively new to this exercise, or you can brainstorm the major categories related to the specific problem.

Now brainstorm all the causes to the problem. You could use the approach of writing each cause on post it notes, going around the group asking each person for one cause. Continue going through the rounds, getting more causes, until all ideas are exhausted.

For each cause, agree in the group which category the issue should fall in. (An issue can fall in a number of categories) and continue this process until the group have run out of ideas.

An example Fishbone Diagram

The group in the example below, had a problem with excessive scrap. They then got a cross functional team together to understand possible reasons, listing each possible cause into categories.

The next step would be to pick the top three causes and delve deeper to find the true root causes.

A Few Tips Along the Way

1. Remember, as with any task-based activity, always close the session off with actions and owners – “Who is doing what by when?” This is important, as it keeps the teams focused on the project.

2. Hold people accountable and summarise the event, including the actions and deliverables to take away.

3. Have regular reviews with the team in between events, checking for status against the action plan, and work ways of getting tasks back on track if they are falling behind schedule. Keep on top of everything!

4. Leave every task and bit of information clear and concise, so the team understands what is expected of them.

5. As a part of Visual Management, why not create and place a number of large Problem solving boards around the shop floor or in the office. Get the teams to start identifying day to day issues, using QCPC charts and then running quick problem solving sessions, using fishbone diagrams and 5 whys together, 3 times a month for the highest turnbacks on these QCPC charts. You will systematically be embedding a problem solving and continuous improvement culture without even knowing it!

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All teams and organizations encounter challenges as they grow. There are problems that might occur for teams when it comes to miscommunication or resolving business-critical issues . You may face challenges around growth , design , user engagement, and even team culture and happiness. In short, problem-solving techniques should be part of every team’s skillset.

Problem-solving methods are primarily designed to help a group or team through a process of first identifying problems and challenges , ideating possible solutions , and then evaluating the most suitable .

Finding effective solutions to complex problems isn’t easy, but by using the right process and techniques, you can help your team be more efficient in the process.

So how do you develop strategies that are engaging, and empower your team to solve problems effectively?

In this blog post, we share a series of problem-solving tools you can use in your next workshop or team meeting. You’ll also find some tips for facilitating the process and how to enable others to solve complex problems.

Let’s get started! 

How do you identify problems?

How do you identify the right solution.

Complete problem-solving methods

Problem-solving warm-up activities

Closing activities for a problem-solving process.

Before you can move towards finding the right solution for a given problem, you first need to identify and define the problem you wish to solve. 

Here, you want to clearly articulate what the problem is and allow your group to do the same. Remember that everyone in a group is likely to have differing perspectives and alignment is necessary in order to help the group move forward. 

Identifying a problem accurately also requires that all members of a group are able to contribute their views in an open and safe manner. It can be scary for people to stand up and contribute, especially if the problems or challenges are emotive or personal in nature. Be sure to try and create a psychologically safe space for these kinds of discussions.

Remember that problem analysis and further discussion are also important. Not taking the time to fully analyze and discuss a challenge can result in the development of solutions that are not fit for purpose or do not address the underlying issue.

Successfully identifying and then analyzing a problem means facilitating a group through activities designed to help them clearly and honestly articulate their thoughts and produce usable insight.

With this data, you might then produce a problem statement that clearly describes the problem you wish to be addressed and also state the goal of any process you undertake to tackle this issue.  

Finding solutions is the end goal of any process. Complex organizational challenges can only be solved with an appropriate solution but discovering them requires using the right problem-solving tool.

After you’ve explored a problem and discussed ideas, you need to help a team discuss and choose the right solution. Consensus tools and methods such as those below help a group explore possible solutions before then voting for the best. They’re a great way to tap into the collective intelligence of the group for great results!

Remember that the process is often iterative. Great problem solvers often roadtest a viable solution in a measured way to see what works too. While you might not get the right solution on your first try, the methods below help teams land on the most likely to succeed solution while also holding space for improvement.

Tips for more effective problem solving

Problem-solving activities are only one part of the puzzle. While a great method can help unlock your team’s ability to solve problems, without a thoughtful approach and strong facilitation the solutions may not be fit for purpose.

Let’s take a look at some problem-solving tips you can apply to any process to help it be a success!

Clearly define the problem

Jumping straight to solutions can be tempting, though without first clearly articulating a problem, the solution might not be the right one. Many of the problem-solving activities below include sections where the problem is explored and clearly defined before moving on.

This is a vital part of the problem-solving process and taking the time to fully define an issue can save time and effort later. A clear definition helps identify irrelevant information and it also ensures that your team sets off on the right track.

Don’t jump to conclusions

It’s easy for groups to exhibit cognitive bias or have preconceived ideas about both problems and potential solutions. Be sure to back up any problem statements or potential solutions with facts, research, and adequate forethought.

The best techniques ask participants to be methodical and challenge preconceived notions. Make sure you give the group enough time and space to collect relevant information and consider the problem in a new way. By approaching the process with a clear, rational mindset, you’ll often find that better solutions are more forthcoming.  

Try different approaches  

Problems come in all shapes and sizes and so too should the methods you use to solve them. If you find that one approach isn’t yielding results and your team isn’t finding different solutions, try mixing it up. You’ll be surprised at how using a new creative activity can unblock your team and generate great solutions.

Don’t take it personally 

Depending on the nature of your team or organizational problems, it’s easy for conversations to get heated. While it’s good for participants to be engaged in the discussions, ensure that emotions don’t run too high and that blame isn’t thrown around while finding solutions.

You’re all in it together, and even if your team or area is seeing problems, that isn’t necessarily a disparagement of you personally. Using facilitation skills to manage group dynamics is one effective method of helping conversations be more constructive.

Get the right people in the room

Your problem-solving method is often only as effective as the group using it. Getting the right people on the job and managing the number of people present is important too!

If the group is too small, you may not get enough different perspectives to effectively solve a problem. If the group is too large, you can go round and round during the ideation stages.

Creating the right group makeup is also important in ensuring you have the necessary expertise and skillset to both identify and follow up on potential solutions. Carefully consider who to include at each stage to help ensure your problem-solving method is followed and positioned for success.

Document everything

The best solutions can take refinement, iteration, and reflection to come out. Get into a habit of documenting your process in order to keep all the learnings from the session and to allow ideas to mature and develop. Many of the methods below involve the creation of documents or shared resources. Be sure to keep and share these so everyone can benefit from the work done!

Bring a facilitator 

Facilitation is all about making group processes easier. With a subject as potentially emotive and important as problem-solving, having an impartial third party in the form of a facilitator can make all the difference in finding great solutions and keeping the process moving. Consider bringing a facilitator to your problem-solving session to get better results and generate meaningful solutions!

Develop your problem-solving skills

It takes time and practice to be an effective problem solver. While some roles or participants might more naturally gravitate towards problem-solving, it can take development and planning to help everyone create better solutions.

You might develop a training program, run a problem-solving workshop or simply ask your team to practice using the techniques below. Check out our post on problem-solving skills to see how you and your group can develop the right mental process and be more resilient to issues too!

Design the right agenda

Workshops are a great format for solving problems. With the right approach, you can focus a group and help them find the solutions to their own problems. But designing a process can be time-consuming and finding the right activities can be difficult.

SessionLab makes it easy to plan a process to solve important problems. You can find methods fit for your purpose in the library and add them to your agenda. You’ll even find templates designed by expert facilitators to help you kickstart your workshop design.

In this section, we’ll look at in-depth problem-solving methods that provide a complete end-to-end process for developing effective solutions. These will help guide your team from the discovery and definition of a problem through to delivering the right solution.

If you’re looking for an all-encompassing method or problem-solving model, these processes are a great place to start. They’ll ask your team to challenge preconceived ideas and adopt a mindset for solving problems more effectively.

Design Sprint 2.0

1. Six Thinking Hats

Individual approaches to solving a problem can be very different based on what team or role an individual holds. It can be easy for existing biases or perspectives to find their way into the mix, or for internal politics to direct a conversation.

Six Thinking Hats is a classic method for identifying the problems that need to be solved and enables your team to consider them from different angles, whether that is by focusing on facts and data, creative solutions, or by considering why a particular solution might not work.

Like all problem-solving frameworks, Six Thinking Hats is effective at helping teams remove roadblocks from a conversation or discussion and come to terms with all the aspects necessary to solve complex problems.

2. Lightning Decision Jam

Featured courtesy of Jonathan Courtney of AJ&Smart Berlin, Lightning Decision Jam is one of those strategies that should be in every facilitation toolbox. Exploring problems and finding solutions is often creative in nature, though as with any creative process, there is the potential to lose focus and get lost.

Unstructured discussions might get you there in the end, but it’s much more effective to use a method that creates a clear process and team focus.

In Lightning Decision Jam, participants are invited to begin by writing challenges, concerns, or mistakes on post-its without discussing them before then being invited by the moderator to present them to the group.

From there, the team vote on which problems to solve and are guided through steps that will allow them to reframe those problems, create solutions and then decide what to execute on. 

By deciding the problems that need to be solved as a team before moving on, this group process is great for ensuring the whole team is aligned and can take ownership over the next stages. 

Lightning Decision Jam (LDJ)   #action   #decision making   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #innovation   #design   #remote-friendly   The problem with anything that requires creative thinking is that it’s easy to get lost—lose focus and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions. Here’s the most effective solution I’ve found: Replace all open, unstructured discussion with a clear process. What to use this exercise for: Anything which requires a group of people to make decisions, solve problems or discuss challenges. It’s always good to frame an LDJ session with a broad topic, here are some examples: The conversion flow of our checkout Our internal design process How we organise events Keeping up with our competition Improving sales flow

3. Problem Definition Process

While problems can be complex, the problem-solving methods you use to identify and solve those problems can often be simple in design. 

By taking the time to truly identify and define a problem before asking the group to reframe the challenge as an opportunity, this method is a great way to enable change.

Begin by identifying a focus question and exploring the ways in which it manifests before splitting into five teams who will each consider the problem using a different method: escape, reversal, exaggeration, distortion or wishful. Teams develop a problem objective and create ideas in line with their method before then feeding them back to the group.

This method is great for enabling in-depth discussions while also creating space for finding creative solutions too!

Problem Definition   #problem solving   #idea generation   #creativity   #online   #remote-friendly   A problem solving technique to define a problem, challenge or opportunity and to generate ideas.

4. The 5 Whys 

Sometimes, a group needs to go further with their strategies and analyze the root cause at the heart of organizational issues. An RCA or root cause analysis is the process of identifying what is at the heart of business problems or recurring challenges. 

The 5 Whys is a simple and effective method of helping a group go find the root cause of any problem or challenge and conduct analysis that will deliver results. 

By beginning with the creation of a problem statement and going through five stages to refine it, The 5 Whys provides everything you need to truly discover the cause of an issue.

The 5 Whys   #hyperisland   #innovation   This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. As the title suggests, the group defines a problems, then asks the question “why” five times, often using the resulting explanation as a starting point for creative problem solving.

5. World Cafe

World Cafe is a simple but powerful facilitation technique to help bigger groups to focus their energy and attention on solving complex problems.

World Cafe enables this approach by creating a relaxed atmosphere where participants are able to self-organize and explore topics relevant and important to them which are themed around a central problem-solving purpose. Create the right atmosphere by modeling your space after a cafe and after guiding the group through the method, let them take the lead!

Making problem-solving a part of your organization’s culture in the long term can be a difficult undertaking. More approachable formats like World Cafe can be especially effective in bringing people unfamiliar with workshops into the fold. 

World Cafe   #hyperisland   #innovation   #issue analysis   World Café is a simple yet powerful method, originated by Juanita Brown, for enabling meaningful conversations driven completely by participants and the topics that are relevant and important to them. Facilitators create a cafe-style space and provide simple guidelines. Participants then self-organize and explore a set of relevant topics or questions for conversation.

6. Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)

One of the best approaches is to create a safe space for a group to share and discover practices and behaviors that can help them find their own solutions.

With DAD, you can help a group choose which problems they wish to solve and which approaches they will take to do so. It’s great at helping remove resistance to change and can help get buy-in at every level too!

This process of enabling frontline ownership is great in ensuring follow-through and is one of the methods you will want in your toolbox as a facilitator.

Discovery & Action Dialogue (DAD)   #idea generation   #liberating structures   #action   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   DADs make it easy for a group or community to discover practices and behaviors that enable some individuals (without access to special resources and facing the same constraints) to find better solutions than their peers to common problems. These are called positive deviant (PD) behaviors and practices. DADs make it possible for people in the group, unit, or community to discover by themselves these PD practices. DADs also create favorable conditions for stimulating participants’ creativity in spaces where they can feel safe to invent new and more effective practices. Resistance to change evaporates as participants are unleashed to choose freely which practices they will adopt or try and which problems they will tackle. DADs make it possible to achieve frontline ownership of solutions.

7. Design Sprint 2.0

Want to see how a team can solve big problems and move forward with prototyping and testing solutions in a few days? The Design Sprint 2.0 template from Jake Knapp, author of Sprint, is a complete agenda for a with proven results.

Developing the right agenda can involve difficult but necessary planning. Ensuring all the correct steps are followed can also be stressful or time-consuming depending on your level of experience.

Use this complete 4-day workshop template if you are finding there is no obvious solution to your challenge and want to focus your team around a specific problem that might require a shortcut to launching a minimum viable product or waiting for the organization-wide implementation of a solution.

8. Open space technology

Open space technology- developed by Harrison Owen – creates a space where large groups are invited to take ownership of their problem solving and lead individual sessions. Open space technology is a great format when you have a great deal of expertise and insight in the room and want to allow for different takes and approaches on a particular theme or problem you need to be solved.

Start by bringing your participants together to align around a central theme and focus their efforts. Explain the ground rules to help guide the problem-solving process and then invite members to identify any issue connecting to the central theme that they are interested in and are prepared to take responsibility for.

Once participants have decided on their approach to the core theme, they write their issue on a piece of paper, announce it to the group, pick a session time and place, and post the paper on the wall. As the wall fills up with sessions, the group is then invited to join the sessions that interest them the most and which they can contribute to, then you’re ready to begin!

Everyone joins the problem-solving group they’ve signed up to, record the discussion and if appropriate, findings can then be shared with the rest of the group afterward.

Open Space Technology   #action plan   #idea generation   #problem solving   #issue analysis   #large group   #online   #remote-friendly   Open Space is a methodology for large groups to create their agenda discerning important topics for discussion, suitable for conferences, community gatherings and whole system facilitation

Techniques to identify and analyze problems

Using a problem-solving method to help a team identify and analyze a problem can be a quick and effective addition to any workshop or meeting.

While further actions are always necessary, you can generate momentum and alignment easily, and these activities are a great place to get started.

We’ve put together this list of techniques to help you and your team with problem identification, analysis, and discussion that sets the foundation for developing effective solutions.

Let’s take a look!

Individual and group perspectives are incredibly important, but what happens if people are set in their minds and need a change of perspective in order to approach a problem more effectively?

Flip It is a method we love because it is both simple to understand and run, and allows groups to understand how their perspectives and biases are formed. 

Participants in Flip It are first invited to consider concerns, issues, or problems from a perspective of fear and write them on a flip chart. Then, the group is asked to consider those same issues from a perspective of hope and flip their understanding.  

No problem and solution is free from existing bias and by changing perspectives with Flip It, you can then develop a problem solving model quickly and effectively.

Flip It!   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Often, a change in a problem or situation comes simply from a change in our perspectives. Flip It! is a quick game designed to show players that perspectives are made, not born.

10. The Creativity Dice

One of the most useful problem solving skills you can teach your team is of approaching challenges with creativity, flexibility, and openness. Games like The Creativity Dice allow teams to overcome the potential hurdle of too much linear thinking and approach the process with a sense of fun and speed. 

In The Creativity Dice, participants are organized around a topic and roll a dice to determine what they will work on for a period of 3 minutes at a time. They might roll a 3 and work on investigating factual information on the chosen topic. They might roll a 1 and work on identifying the specific goals, standards, or criteria for the session.

Encouraging rapid work and iteration while asking participants to be flexible are great skills to cultivate. Having a stage for idea incubation in this game is also important. Moments of pause can help ensure the ideas that are put forward are the most suitable. 

The Creativity Dice   #creativity   #problem solving   #thiagi   #issue analysis   Too much linear thinking is hazardous to creative problem solving. To be creative, you should approach the problem (or the opportunity) from different points of view. You should leave a thought hanging in mid-air and move to another. This skipping around prevents premature closure and lets your brain incubate one line of thought while you consciously pursue another.

11. Fishbone Analysis

Organizational or team challenges are rarely simple, and it’s important to remember that one problem can be an indication of something that goes deeper and may require further consideration to be solved.

Fishbone Analysis helps groups to dig deeper and understand the origins of a problem. It’s a great example of a root cause analysis method that is simple for everyone on a team to get their head around. 

Participants in this activity are asked to annotate a diagram of a fish, first adding the problem or issue to be worked on at the head of a fish before then brainstorming the root causes of the problem and adding them as bones on the fish. 

Using abstractions such as a diagram of a fish can really help a team break out of their regular thinking and develop a creative approach.

Fishbone Analysis   #problem solving   ##root cause analysis   #decision making   #online facilitation   A process to help identify and understand the origins of problems, issues or observations.

12. Problem Tree 

Encouraging visual thinking can be an essential part of many strategies. By simply reframing and clarifying problems, a group can move towards developing a problem solving model that works for them. 

In Problem Tree, groups are asked to first brainstorm a list of problems – these can be design problems, team problems or larger business problems – and then organize them into a hierarchy. The hierarchy could be from most important to least important or abstract to practical, though the key thing with problem solving games that involve this aspect is that your group has some way of managing and sorting all the issues that are raised.

Once you have a list of problems that need to be solved and have organized them accordingly, you’re then well-positioned for the next problem solving steps.

Problem tree   #define intentions   #create   #design   #issue analysis   A problem tree is a tool to clarify the hierarchy of problems addressed by the team within a design project; it represents high level problems or related sublevel problems.

13. SWOT Analysis

Chances are you’ve heard of the SWOT Analysis before. This problem-solving method focuses on identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is a tried and tested method for both individuals and teams.

Start by creating a desired end state or outcome and bare this in mind – any process solving model is made more effective by knowing what you are moving towards. Create a quadrant made up of the four categories of a SWOT analysis and ask participants to generate ideas based on each of those quadrants.

Once you have those ideas assembled in their quadrants, cluster them together based on their affinity with other ideas. These clusters are then used to facilitate group conversations and move things forward. 

SWOT analysis   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   #meeting facilitation   The SWOT Analysis is a long-standing technique of looking at what we have, with respect to the desired end state, as well as what we could improve on. It gives us an opportunity to gauge approaching opportunities and dangers, and assess the seriousness of the conditions that affect our future. When we understand those conditions, we can influence what comes next.

14. Agreement-Certainty Matrix

Not every problem-solving approach is right for every challenge, and deciding on the right method for the challenge at hand is a key part of being an effective team.

The Agreement Certainty matrix helps teams align on the nature of the challenges facing them. By sorting problems from simple to chaotic, your team can understand what methods are suitable for each problem and what they can do to ensure effective results. 

If you are already using Liberating Structures techniques as part of your problem-solving strategy, the Agreement-Certainty Matrix can be an invaluable addition to your process. We’ve found it particularly if you are having issues with recurring problems in your organization and want to go deeper in understanding the root cause. 

Agreement-Certainty Matrix   #issue analysis   #liberating structures   #problem solving   You can help individuals or groups avoid the frequent mistake of trying to solve a problem with methods that are not adapted to the nature of their challenge. The combination of two questions makes it possible to easily sort challenges into four categories: simple, complicated, complex , and chaotic .  A problem is simple when it can be solved reliably with practices that are easy to duplicate.  It is complicated when experts are required to devise a sophisticated solution that will yield the desired results predictably.  A problem is complex when there are several valid ways to proceed but outcomes are not predictable in detail.  Chaotic is when the context is too turbulent to identify a path forward.  A loose analogy may be used to describe these differences: simple is like following a recipe, complicated like sending a rocket to the moon, complex like raising a child, and chaotic is like the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”  The Liberating Structures Matching Matrix in Chapter 5 can be used as the first step to clarify the nature of a challenge and avoid the mismatches between problems and solutions that are frequently at the root of chronic, recurring problems.

Organizing and charting a team’s progress can be important in ensuring its success. SQUID (Sequential Question and Insight Diagram) is a great model that allows a team to effectively switch between giving questions and answers and develop the skills they need to stay on track throughout the process. 

Begin with two different colored sticky notes – one for questions and one for answers – and with your central topic (the head of the squid) on the board. Ask the group to first come up with a series of questions connected to their best guess of how to approach the topic. Ask the group to come up with answers to those questions, fix them to the board and connect them with a line. After some discussion, go back to question mode by responding to the generated answers or other points on the board.

It’s rewarding to see a diagram grow throughout the exercise, and a completed SQUID can provide a visual resource for future effort and as an example for other teams.

SQUID   #gamestorming   #project planning   #issue analysis   #problem solving   When exploring an information space, it’s important for a group to know where they are at any given time. By using SQUID, a group charts out the territory as they go and can navigate accordingly. SQUID stands for Sequential Question and Insight Diagram.

16. Speed Boat

To continue with our nautical theme, Speed Boat is a short and sweet activity that can help a team quickly identify what employees, clients or service users might have a problem with and analyze what might be standing in the way of achieving a solution.

Methods that allow for a group to make observations, have insights and obtain those eureka moments quickly are invaluable when trying to solve complex problems.

In Speed Boat, the approach is to first consider what anchors and challenges might be holding an organization (or boat) back. Bonus points if you are able to identify any sharks in the water and develop ideas that can also deal with competitors!   

Speed Boat   #gamestorming   #problem solving   #action   Speedboat is a short and sweet way to identify what your employees or clients don’t like about your product/service or what’s standing in the way of a desired goal.

17. The Journalistic Six

Some of the most effective ways of solving problems is by encouraging teams to be more inclusive and diverse in their thinking.

Based on the six key questions journalism students are taught to answer in articles and news stories, The Journalistic Six helps create teams to see the whole picture. By using who, what, when, where, why, and how to facilitate the conversation and encourage creative thinking, your team can make sure that the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the are covered exhaustively and thoughtfully. Reporter’s notebook and dictaphone optional.

The Journalistic Six – Who What When Where Why How   #idea generation   #issue analysis   #problem solving   #online   #creative thinking   #remote-friendly   A questioning method for generating, explaining, investigating ideas.

18. LEGO Challenge

Now for an activity that is a little out of the (toy) box. LEGO Serious Play is a facilitation methodology that can be used to improve creative thinking and problem-solving skills. 

The LEGO Challenge includes giving each member of the team an assignment that is hidden from the rest of the group while they create a structure without speaking.

What the LEGO challenge brings to the table is a fun working example of working with stakeholders who might not be on the same page to solve problems. Also, it’s LEGO! Who doesn’t love LEGO! 

LEGO Challenge   #hyperisland   #team   A team-building activity in which groups must work together to build a structure out of LEGO, but each individual has a secret “assignment” which makes the collaborative process more challenging. It emphasizes group communication, leadership dynamics, conflict, cooperation, patience and problem solving strategy.

19. What, So What, Now What?

If not carefully managed, the problem identification and problem analysis stages of the problem-solving process can actually create more problems and misunderstandings.

The What, So What, Now What? problem-solving activity is designed to help collect insights and move forward while also eliminating the possibility of disagreement when it comes to identifying, clarifying, and analyzing organizational or work problems. 

Facilitation is all about bringing groups together so that might work on a shared goal and the best problem-solving strategies ensure that teams are aligned in purpose, if not initially in opinion or insight.

Throughout the three steps of this game, you give everyone on a team to reflect on a problem by asking what happened, why it is important, and what actions should then be taken. 

This can be a great activity for bringing our individual perceptions about a problem or challenge and contextualizing it in a larger group setting. This is one of the most important problem-solving skills you can bring to your organization.

W³ – What, So What, Now What?   #issue analysis   #innovation   #liberating structures   You can help groups reflect on a shared experience in a way that builds understanding and spurs coordinated action while avoiding unproductive conflict. It is possible for every voice to be heard while simultaneously sifting for insights and shaping new direction. Progressing in stages makes this practical—from collecting facts about What Happened to making sense of these facts with So What and finally to what actions logically follow with Now What . The shared progression eliminates most of the misunderstandings that otherwise fuel disagreements about what to do. Voila!

20. Journalists  

Problem analysis can be one of the most important and decisive stages of all problem-solving tools. Sometimes, a team can become bogged down in the details and are unable to move forward.

Journalists is an activity that can avoid a group from getting stuck in the problem identification or problem analysis stages of the process.

In Journalists, the group is invited to draft the front page of a fictional newspaper and figure out what stories deserve to be on the cover and what headlines those stories will have. By reframing how your problems and challenges are approached, you can help a team move productively through the process and be better prepared for the steps to follow.

Journalists   #vision   #big picture   #issue analysis   #remote-friendly   This is an exercise to use when the group gets stuck in details and struggles to see the big picture. Also good for defining a vision.

Problem-solving techniques for developing solutions 

The success of any problem-solving process can be measured by the solutions it produces. After you’ve defined the issue, explored existing ideas, and ideated, it’s time to narrow down to the correct solution.

Use these problem-solving techniques when you want to help your team find consensus, compare possible solutions, and move towards taking action on a particular problem.

21. Mindspin  

Brainstorming is part of the bread and butter of the problem-solving process and all problem-solving strategies benefit from getting ideas out and challenging a team to generate solutions quickly. 

With Mindspin, participants are encouraged not only to generate ideas but to do so under time constraints and by slamming down cards and passing them on. By doing multiple rounds, your team can begin with a free generation of possible solutions before moving on to developing those solutions and encouraging further ideation. 

This is one of our favorite problem-solving activities and can be great for keeping the energy up throughout the workshop. Remember the importance of helping people become engaged in the process – energizing problem-solving techniques like Mindspin can help ensure your team stays engaged and happy, even when the problems they’re coming together to solve are complex. 

MindSpin   #teampedia   #idea generation   #problem solving   #action   A fast and loud method to enhance brainstorming within a team. Since this activity has more than round ideas that are repetitive can be ruled out leaving more creative and innovative answers to the challenge.

22. Improved Solutions

After a team has successfully identified a problem and come up with a few solutions, it can be tempting to call the work of the problem-solving process complete. That said, the first solution is not necessarily the best, and by including a further review and reflection activity into your problem-solving model, you can ensure your group reaches the best possible result. 

One of a number of problem-solving games from Thiagi Group, Improved Solutions helps you go the extra mile and develop suggested solutions with close consideration and peer review. By supporting the discussion of several problems at once and by shifting team roles throughout, this problem-solving technique is a dynamic way of finding the best solution. 

Improved Solutions   #creativity   #thiagi   #problem solving   #action   #team   You can improve any solution by objectively reviewing its strengths and weaknesses and making suitable adjustments. In this creativity framegame, you improve the solutions to several problems. To maintain objective detachment, you deal with a different problem during each of six rounds and assume different roles (problem owner, consultant, basher, booster, enhancer, and evaluator) during each round. At the conclusion of the activity, each player ends up with two solutions to her problem.

23. Four Step Sketch

Creative thinking and visual ideation does not need to be confined to the opening stages of your problem-solving strategies. Exercises that include sketching and prototyping on paper can be effective at the solution finding and development stage of the process, and can be great for keeping a team engaged. 

By going from simple notes to a crazy 8s round that involves rapidly sketching 8 variations on their ideas before then producing a final solution sketch, the group is able to iterate quickly and visually. Problem-solving techniques like Four-Step Sketch are great if you have a group of different thinkers and want to change things up from a more textual or discussion-based approach.

Four-Step Sketch   #design sprint   #innovation   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   The four-step sketch is an exercise that helps people to create well-formed concepts through a structured process that includes: Review key information Start design work on paper,  Consider multiple variations , Create a detailed solution . This exercise is preceded by a set of other activities allowing the group to clarify the challenge they want to solve. See how the Four Step Sketch exercise fits into a Design Sprint

24. 15% Solutions

Some problems are simpler than others and with the right problem-solving activities, you can empower people to take immediate actions that can help create organizational change. 

Part of the liberating structures toolkit, 15% solutions is a problem-solving technique that focuses on finding and implementing solutions quickly. A process of iterating and making small changes quickly can help generate momentum and an appetite for solving complex problems.

Problem-solving strategies can live and die on whether people are onboard. Getting some quick wins is a great way of getting people behind the process.   

It can be extremely empowering for a team to realize that problem-solving techniques can be deployed quickly and easily and delineate between things they can positively impact and those things they cannot change. 

15% Solutions   #action   #liberating structures   #remote-friendly   You can reveal the actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference.  15% Solutions show that there is no reason to wait around, feel powerless, or fearful. They help people pick it up a level. They get individuals and the group to focus on what is within their discretion instead of what they cannot change.  With a very simple question, you can flip the conversation to what can be done and find solutions to big problems that are often distributed widely in places not known in advance. Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide and change the whole landscape.

25. How-Now-Wow Matrix

The problem-solving process is often creative, as complex problems usually require a change of thinking and creative response in order to find the best solutions. While it’s common for the first stages to encourage creative thinking, groups can often gravitate to familiar solutions when it comes to the end of the process. 

When selecting solutions, you don’t want to lose your creative energy! The How-Now-Wow Matrix from Gamestorming is a great problem-solving activity that enables a group to stay creative and think out of the box when it comes to selecting the right solution for a given problem.

Problem-solving techniques that encourage creative thinking and the ideation and selection of new solutions can be the most effective in organisational change. Give the How-Now-Wow Matrix a go, and not just for how pleasant it is to say out loud. 

How-Now-Wow Matrix   #gamestorming   #idea generation   #remote-friendly   When people want to develop new ideas, they most often think out of the box in the brainstorming or divergent phase. However, when it comes to convergence, people often end up picking ideas that are most familiar to them. This is called a ‘creative paradox’ or a ‘creadox’. The How-Now-Wow matrix is an idea selection tool that breaks the creadox by forcing people to weigh each idea on 2 parameters.

26. Impact and Effort Matrix

All problem-solving techniques hope to not only find solutions to a given problem or challenge but to find the best solution. When it comes to finding a solution, groups are invited to put on their decision-making hats and really think about how a proposed idea would work in practice. 

The Impact and Effort Matrix is one of the problem-solving techniques that fall into this camp, empowering participants to first generate ideas and then categorize them into a 2×2 matrix based on impact and effort.

Activities that invite critical thinking while remaining simple are invaluable. Use the Impact and Effort Matrix to move from ideation and towards evaluating potential solutions before then committing to them. 

Impact and Effort Matrix   #gamestorming   #decision making   #action   #remote-friendly   In this decision-making exercise, possible actions are mapped based on two factors: effort required to implement and potential impact. Categorizing ideas along these lines is a useful technique in decision making, as it obliges contributors to balance and evaluate suggested actions before committing to them.

27. Dotmocracy

If you’ve followed each of the problem-solving steps with your group successfully, you should move towards the end of your process with heaps of possible solutions developed with a specific problem in mind. But how do you help a group go from ideation to putting a solution into action? 

Dotmocracy – or Dot Voting -is a tried and tested method of helping a team in the problem-solving process make decisions and put actions in place with a degree of oversight and consensus. 

One of the problem-solving techniques that should be in every facilitator’s toolbox, Dot Voting is fast and effective and can help identify the most popular and best solutions and help bring a group to a decision effectively. 

Dotmocracy   #action   #decision making   #group prioritization   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Dotmocracy is a simple method for group prioritization or decision-making. It is not an activity on its own, but a method to use in processes where prioritization or decision-making is the aim. The method supports a group to quickly see which options are most popular or relevant. The options or ideas are written on post-its and stuck up on a wall for the whole group to see. Each person votes for the options they think are the strongest, and that information is used to inform a decision.

All facilitators know that warm-ups and icebreakers are useful for any workshop or group process. Problem-solving workshops are no different.

Use these problem-solving techniques to warm up a group and prepare them for the rest of the process. Activating your group by tapping into some of the top problem-solving skills can be one of the best ways to see great outcomes from your session.

28. Check-in / Check-out

Solid processes are planned from beginning to end, and the best facilitators know that setting the tone and establishing a safe, open environment can be integral to a successful problem-solving process.

Check-in / Check-out is a great way to begin and/or bookend a problem-solving workshop. Checking in to a session emphasizes that everyone will be seen, heard, and expected to contribute. 

If you are running a series of meetings, setting a consistent pattern of checking in and checking out can really help your team get into a groove. We recommend this opening-closing activity for small to medium-sized groups though it can work with large groups if they’re disciplined!

Check-in / Check-out   #team   #opening   #closing   #hyperisland   #remote-friendly   Either checking-in or checking-out is a simple way for a team to open or close a process, symbolically and in a collaborative way. Checking-in/out invites each member in a group to be present, seen and heard, and to express a reflection or a feeling. Checking-in emphasizes presence, focus and group commitment; checking-out emphasizes reflection and symbolic closure.

29. Doodling Together  

Thinking creatively and not being afraid to make suggestions are important problem-solving skills for any group or team, and warming up by encouraging these behaviors is a great way to start. 

Doodling Together is one of our favorite creative ice breaker games – it’s quick, effective, and fun and can make all following problem-solving steps easier by encouraging a group to collaborate visually. By passing cards and adding additional items as they go, the workshop group gets into a groove of co-creation and idea development that is crucial to finding solutions to problems. 

Doodling Together   #collaboration   #creativity   #teamwork   #fun   #team   #visual methods   #energiser   #icebreaker   #remote-friendly   Create wild, weird and often funny postcards together & establish a group’s creative confidence.

30. Show and Tell

You might remember some version of Show and Tell from being a kid in school and it’s a great problem-solving activity to kick off a session.

Asking participants to prepare a little something before a workshop by bringing an object for show and tell can help them warm up before the session has even begun! Games that include a physical object can also help encourage early engagement before moving onto more big-picture thinking.

By asking your participants to tell stories about why they chose to bring a particular item to the group, you can help teams see things from new perspectives and see both differences and similarities in the way they approach a topic. Great groundwork for approaching a problem-solving process as a team! 

Show and Tell   #gamestorming   #action   #opening   #meeting facilitation   Show and Tell taps into the power of metaphors to reveal players’ underlying assumptions and associations around a topic The aim of the game is to get a deeper understanding of stakeholders’ perspectives on anything—a new project, an organizational restructuring, a shift in the company’s vision or team dynamic.

31. Constellations

Who doesn’t love stars? Constellations is a great warm-up activity for any workshop as it gets people up off their feet, energized, and ready to engage in new ways with established topics. It’s also great for showing existing beliefs, biases, and patterns that can come into play as part of your session.

Using warm-up games that help build trust and connection while also allowing for non-verbal responses can be great for easing people into the problem-solving process and encouraging engagement from everyone in the group. Constellations is great in large spaces that allow for movement and is definitely a practical exercise to allow the group to see patterns that are otherwise invisible. 

Constellations   #trust   #connection   #opening   #coaching   #patterns   #system   Individuals express their response to a statement or idea by standing closer or further from a central object. Used with teams to reveal system, hidden patterns, perspectives.

32. Draw a Tree

Problem-solving games that help raise group awareness through a central, unifying metaphor can be effective ways to warm-up a group in any problem-solving model.

Draw a Tree is a simple warm-up activity you can use in any group and which can provide a quick jolt of energy. Start by asking your participants to draw a tree in just 45 seconds – they can choose whether it will be abstract or realistic. 

Once the timer is up, ask the group how many people included the roots of the tree and use this as a means to discuss how we can ignore important parts of any system simply because they are not visible.

All problem-solving strategies are made more effective by thinking of problems critically and by exposing things that may not normally come to light. Warm-up games like Draw a Tree are great in that they quickly demonstrate some key problem-solving skills in an accessible and effective way.

Draw a Tree   #thiagi   #opening   #perspectives   #remote-friendly   With this game you can raise awarness about being more mindful, and aware of the environment we live in.

Each step of the problem-solving workshop benefits from an intelligent deployment of activities, games, and techniques. Bringing your session to an effective close helps ensure that solutions are followed through on and that you also celebrate what has been achieved.

Here are some problem-solving activities you can use to effectively close a workshop or meeting and ensure the great work you’ve done can continue afterward.

How do I conclude a problem-solving process?

All good things must come to an end. With the bulk of the work done, it can be tempting to conclude your workshop swiftly and without a moment to debrief and align. This can be problematic in that it doesn’t allow your team to fully process the results or reflect on the process.

At the end of an effective session, your team will have gone through a process that, while productive, can be exhausting. It’s important to give your group a moment to take a breath, ensure that they are clear on future actions, and provide short feedback before leaving the space. 

The primary purpose of any problem-solving method is to generate solutions and then implement them. Be sure to take the opportunity to ensure everyone is aligned and ready to effectively implement the solutions you produced in the workshop.

Remember that every process can be improved and by giving a short moment to collect feedback in the session, you can further refine your problem-solving methods and see further success in the future too.

33. One Breath Feedback

Maintaining attention and focus during the closing stages of a problem-solving workshop can be tricky and so being concise when giving feedback can be important. It’s easy to incur “death by feedback” should some team members go on for too long sharing their perspectives in a quick feedback round. 

One Breath Feedback is a great closing activity for workshops. You give everyone an opportunity to provide feedback on what they’ve done but only in the space of a single breath. This keeps feedback short and to the point and means that everyone is encouraged to provide the most important piece of feedback to them. 

One breath feedback   #closing   #feedback   #action   This is a feedback round in just one breath that excels in maintaining attention: each participants is able to speak during just one breath … for most people that’s around 20 to 25 seconds … unless of course you’ve been a deep sea diver in which case you’ll be able to do it for longer.

34. Who What When Matrix 

Matrices feature as part of many effective problem-solving strategies and with good reason. They are easily recognizable, simple to use, and generate results.

The Who What When Matrix is a great tool to use when closing your problem-solving session by attributing a who, what and when to the actions and solutions you have decided upon. The resulting matrix is a simple, easy-to-follow way of ensuring your team can move forward. 

Great solutions can’t be enacted without action and ownership. Your problem-solving process should include a stage for allocating tasks to individuals or teams and creating a realistic timeframe for those solutions to be implemented or checked out. Use this method to keep the solution implementation process clear and simple for all involved. 

Who/What/When Matrix   #gamestorming   #action   #project planning   With Who/What/When matrix, you can connect people with clear actions they have defined and have committed to.

35. Response cards

Group discussion can comprise the bulk of most problem-solving activities and by the end of the process, you might find that your team is talked out! 

Providing a means for your team to give feedback with short written notes can ensure everyone is head and can contribute without the need to stand up and talk. Depending on the needs of the group, giving an alternative can help ensure everyone can contribute to your problem-solving model in the way that makes the most sense for them.

Response Cards is a great way to close a workshop if you are looking for a gentle warm-down and want to get some swift discussion around some of the feedback that is raised. 

Response Cards   #debriefing   #closing   #structured sharing   #questions and answers   #thiagi   #action   It can be hard to involve everyone during a closing of a session. Some might stay in the background or get unheard because of louder participants. However, with the use of Response Cards, everyone will be involved in providing feedback or clarify questions at the end of a session.

Over to you

The problem-solving process can often be as complicated and multifaceted as the problems they are set-up to solve. With the right problem-solving techniques and a mix of creative exercises designed to guide discussion and generate purposeful ideas, we hope we’ve given you the tools to find the best solutions as simply and easily as possible.

Is there a problem-solving technique that you are missing here? Do you have a favorite activity or method you use when facilitating? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you! 

fishbone method of solving problems

thank you very much for these excellent techniques

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Certainly wonderful article, very detailed. Shared!

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Blog Data Visualization

How to Use Fishbone Diagrams to Solve Complex Problems

By Lydia Hooper , Sep 10, 2021

fishbone diagram

Oftentimes, diagrams are used for visualizing and explaining complex topics, patterns and systems to others. But they are often also useful for helping us explore and better understand these things ourselves.

Fishbone diagrams (or cause and effect diagrams) are specifically used to help us solve complex problems.

Let’s say your team is looking to better understand why a certain product is not as successful as you’d like it to be. By creating a fishbone diagram, you can investigate the causes of certain outcomes, thereby identify how to improve them moving forward:

fishbone diagram


Let’s go through what a fishbone diagram is, when you should and should not use it, how to create a fishbone diagram and how to conduct fishbone analysis. You can then create your own fishbone diagram using Venngage’s Diagram Maker —no design experience required.

Table of contents:

What is a fishbone diagram, when to use a fishbone diagram, when not to use a fishbone diagram, how businesses can use fishbone diagrams.

Fishbone diagrams are also known as Ishikawa diagrams, named after Professor Kaoru Ishikawa who was a pioneer in the field of quality management and who created this unique visualization.

Although they were initially used for quality improvement, today fishbone diagrams can be helpful for all kinds of problem-solving. For example, this one lists different factors that can lead to a healthy lifestyle.

fishbone diagram

Return to Table of Contents

Here’s what fishbone diagrams are best used for.

Addressing complex problems

As you can see, the fishbone diagram example above allows a viewer to see several factors at once, making it a great diagram for sharing a lot of complex information.

The most important thing about these diagrams is that they help teams recognize the reasons behind specific outcomes, or in other words—the root causes that lead to effects. They are ideal for addressing complex problems that have multiple causes, such as climate change:

fishbone diagram

Facilitating reflective analysis

Fishbone diagrams are useful for reflective analysis.

If teams are primarily focused on KPIs, these diagrams can provide context that is otherwise missing, helping folks better understand what’s causing numbers to rise or fall.

Teams can identify where mistakes are being made, revenue is being lost, as well as what activities are leading to the best results.

Planning for desired outcomes

Fishbone diagrams are also helpful for future planning. By referencing a fishbone diagram, teams can better identify the best methods for reaching desired outcomes and plan actions accordingly.

You can customize this fishbone diagram template to develop concrete plans for improving customer satisfaction:

fishbone diagram

There are a few situations where you should use a different form of data visualization instead of fishbone diagrams.

When there’s one cause of multiple problems

While fishbone diagrams are ideal for scenarios in which there are multiple causes for a single problem, it’s not ideal for the reverse: when there is a common cause for several separate problems. If you are seeking to show this, a mind map might be a better fit.

mind map


When the order of causes and effects maters

If you want to show specific sequences of causes and effects, a flowchart is the better option:



When you’re looking at correlation, not causation

It’s critical to also remember that correlation and causation are two entirely different things. The quintessential example of this is how ice cream sales and sunscreen sales both rise in summer, but one type of these sales is not leading to the other.

If you are wanting to describe correlation instead of causation, a scatterplot is a common visualization.


Now that you know generally when to use and not to use these diagrams, let’s look at the two major ways businesses use fishbone diagrams to help them solve complex problems.

Analyze how conditions and motivations lead to actions and outcomes

Companies, employees, and customers face problems regularly. Declining leads, cash flow, productivity, satisfaction, retention—all of these problems have causes. Knowing these causes can make all the difference.

Here’s an example of a fishbone diagram that details the many factors that can contribute to missed deadlines:

fishbone diagram

It’s a big deal to be able to do this type of analysis. Not analyzing things like environments, people, and processes can lead to major unintended consequences.

For example:

fishbone diagram

Strategize based on how actions or inactions lead to positive or negative impacts

If you really want to change outcomes and impacts, analysis alone will be insufficient. Fishbone diagrams can also help companies plan improvements in policies, management, systems, etc.

This fishbone diagram example outlines some of the many factors that can lead to low productivity:

fishbone diagram

Once you’ve pinpointed the causes of problems, it’s much easier to take action to solve them.

How to create and use a fishbone diagram

1. select the outcome or effect you want to investigate.

What problem are you solving? What impacts or outcomes do you want to better understand? What do you want to improve?

Once you know this, you can select a Venngage fishbone diagram template and begin easily creating your diagram. Start by specifying as much as possible the key outcome on the right of the diagram, at the head.

fishbone diagram

2. Identify big categories of causes

Some of the more common categories are:

You can use these categories if they make sense, or you may think of others that are more appropriate. It’s generally smart to use a total of four, six or eight categories.

A simple fishbone diagram would just include only these categories, like in this example:

fishbone diagram

In your design, you can use colors to help people distinguish categories from one another.

3. Generate a comprehensive list of contributing factors

Depending on the topic, you may want to dive deeper. The main categories can inspire you to think more critically about multiple factors that may lie in each of them.

This deeper dive will likely require team dialogues and/or conversations with different employees, customers, and other stakeholders. There may be other research you want to do such as reading case studies, observing behaviors, and/or conducting competitor analysis.

You can consider breaking the diagram into top and bottom halves, if that can add additional meaning, like in this example:

fishbone diagram

The diagram should adapt to your growing list. Add all the branches that are relevant to the right off the main stem extending from the head on the left. Use short phrases that describe the cause precisely and succinctly.

4. Analyze and reflect

Chances are that as you generated the categories and lists of causes, you began to consider all the things that are contributing to the outcome you selected. Even if you haven’t developed a completely exhaustive list, you are now ready to pause, take a step back, and think things through in a different way.

To pivot from thinking about the problem to thinking about the solution takes a shift in mindset. Being able to see everything at once in a fishbone diagram can facilitate this. It can help you expand your thinking and witness more fully the immense possibilities for change.

Visuals can also elicit emotions, and that’s important too. You may need to feel your sadness or anger about missed opportunities and other losses, and you will definitely be buoyed by feelings of curiosity and excitement about what you may be able to change.

Fishbone diagrams are powerful tools for reflection, but make no mistake, it’s the reflection that gets you really ready to change things.

5. Plan and take action

The journey to the root has prepared you to solve the problem at hand. Depending on how many categories and causes you’ve unearthed, and the support and resources you have, you can begin to prioritize which causes you will address first, and what you will work to shift over the long term. You might set new goals, and possibly new measures, accordingly.

The diagram you’ve created can be shared to help educate and motivate stakeholders to take action. You can add your brand colors and design details like icons using Venngage so it’s not only useful but visually engaging as well.

Summary: Use a fishbone diagram for root cause analysis, reflective analysis, future planning and more

Fishbone diagrams are not just attractive visuals for impressing others. They are visual tools that help us do some of the most valuable work there is: solving complex problems.

They can spur us to investigate and name what we can change. And because they are visual, we can continue to reference them as we make these changes, so we can stay on track.

Start creating a fishbone diagram today using Venngage’s drag-and-drop editor and easy-to-edit templates. No design experience required.


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The Fishbone Analysis Tool (Ishikawa Diagram): A Simple Intro

The fishbone analysis tool is a visual method used to help capture and understand various things including the root causes to a problem. Completed diagrams look like a fish skeleton. Summary by The World of Work Project

Fishbone Analysis

Fishbone analysis diagrams are also known as Ishikawa diagrams. They are a visual tool that helps individuals and teams captured and understand the root causes to a specific problem.

A diagram showing The Fishbone Analysis Tool

The problem statement that is being considered is captured in the fish’s head. The specific root-causes that contribute to the problem are captured along the fish’s fins (or rib bones). The major causes of the problem are captured at the ends of the fins.

This approach produces comprehensive visualizations of problems which help with the solution process. When designing solutions, it’s important to ensure that any proposed solution addresses the major root causes that have been identified.

Using it in Practice

Fishbone analysis is often part of a more comprehensive approach to team problem solving and is often combined with silent brainstorming .

People sorting post-it notes, which often happens with The Fishbone Analysis Tool

The standard approach that we would use around a fishbone analysis forms part of a facilitated team problem solving approach, using the A3 Thinking method . This is normally completed using post-it notes initially, and is only captured in fishbone diagram at a later stage. The process is as follows:

Major-causes: 3 Common Groups

It’s important to understand the common major-causes which can affect a specific type of problem. With these in mind it’s possible to check the completeness of the root-causes you’ve identified.

fishbone method of solving problems

For example, if you know that a common major-cause is “people capability” and you’ve identified no root-causes of this nature, you can go back and spend further time identifying appropriate root-causes to your problem.

By doing this you can ensure that you’ve identified all of the appropriate root causes, and are thus in a position to identify a better solution to your problem.

Below, we consider three groups of major-causes that you may wish to use to check your root-causes for completeness. Each group is useful in different circumstances. More groups are available, and you can always create your own group which is appropriate for your specific circumstances.

The PPPS Major-causes

PPPC stands for people, process, platform and culture. These are an excellent set of common major-causes to consider for any problem in an office or a professional-services working environment. Most problems in this environment have root causes within all four of these major-causes.

The 5 Ms Major-causes

The 5 Ms are: machine, method, material, man and measurement. These major causes are useful for consideration in the manufacturing sector where you would expect to potentially find root-causes in relation to all of them.

fishbone method of solving problems

The 5 Ps Major-causes

The 5 Ps are: product, price, promotion, place, people. These are simply the 5 Ps of marketing (which we’ve yet to write about), converted into potential major-causes. These are appropriate major-causes to consider in relation to a product marketing problem.

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Learning More

Thinking about what we do from different perspectives and with others is very helpful for decision making. Tools like the reframing matrix process or hackathons can help us do this.

Part of the reason we’re not great at problem solving is that we all have thinking habits and cognitive biases that restrict our creativity. In particular, these decision making biases often lead us towards bad (or irrational) decisions. And sometimes we make decisions just because ISLAGIATT …

Similarly, Drilling into issues with the 5 Whys helps us understand root causes more and creating an ease/benefit matrix helps us decide what to focus on in the first place. When we are actually working on things like this in groups it’s useful to use techniques like silent brainstorming to get the best results.

To learn more about creativity, innovation and problem solving, you might enjoy the third of our three podcasts specifically on these topics. It focuses mainly on cognitive processes:

The World of Work Project View

Fishbone analysis is a helpful tool. It’s a useful way to visualize, share, track and analyze root causes to a specific problem. The approach of comparing root causes to a list of common major-causes for that kind of problem is also very helpful.

In our view though, the real magic comes from getting the right people in the room and leading an effective root-cause ideation / brainstorming activity. In many ways this is more important than how you visualize the root-causes that you capture.

Our Podcast . 

Our Podcast is a great way to learn more about hundreds of fascinating topics from around the world of work.

In this instance, most of our content has come from our working experience. The original source of this model though is by Kaoru Ishikawa and you can read more in his book: “Introduction to Quality Control” .

The World of Work Project: The Fishbone Analysis Tool (Ishikawa Diagram): A Simple Intro

We’re a small organization who know we make mistakes and want to improve them. Please contact us with any feedback you have on this post. We’ll usually reply within 72 hours. 

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How to Build a Fishbone Diagram and Get the Most Out of It

Problems can occur in any business, and may take many different forms. It’s important that you are able to determine the cause of such problems in a timely manner. The only way to ensure this is to make use of a structured approach — and that’s where the fishbone diagram comes in. A fishbone diagram may also be referred to as a cause and effect diagram, an Ishikawa diagram, Herringbone diagram or Ishikawa diagram.

What is a fishbone diagram?

A fishbone diagram , also known as Ishikawa diagram or cause and effect diagram, is a tool used to visualize all the potential causes of a problem in order to discover the root causes. The fishbone diagram helps one group these causes and provides a structure in which to display them. When applied correctly, it ensures that you address the actual cause of the problem and don’t just implement a superficial solution.

The fishbone diagram was given its name due to its resemblance to a fish’s skeleton. Initially popularized in the 1960s as a quality tool by its namesake, Kaoru Ishikawa, it has become an important part of many modern-day systems, including Six Sigma .

When to use a fishbone diagram?

Originally conceived as a tool to aid in problem solving, the fishbone diagram is far more versatile than just that. For any process or system, the fishbone diagram is able to help you break down all of its contributing factors in a hierarchical manner.

Use cases for the fishbone diagram:

How to make a fishbone diagram

To show how a fishbone diagram is created, we are going to try to solve the problem of “why the customer churn of a product is so high”. In this example, sales of a software product are doing quite well, but their subscriptions are not being renewed. This indicates that after the initial purchase, users don’t see continued value in the product.

To illustrate the step-by-step fishbone diagram creation process, we will fill in the Miro fishbone diagram template . Let’s get started.

fishbone diagram template

The Fishbone diagram template

Step 1 – Define the problem

The first step to solving any problem, and the key to a successful fishbone diagram, is to correctly define the problem. In this instance, a product has high churn rate. When viewing the subscription data, the biggest problem noted was that 40% of users were cancelling their subscription after the first month.

After discussing the situation internally, it was decided that this was the key metric to improve on, and a goal was set to improve this metric to have no more than 20% of new users cancelling their subscription after the first month.

When a problem is clearly defined, it is easier to identify causes that affect the metric directly. It also encourages evaluating data to determine whether there is really a problem or not.

The problem you define is used as the output of the fishbone diagram. In this case, the percentage of users cancelling their subscription after the first month is above 20%.

Fishbone diagram example

The Fishbone diagram – define the problem

Problem definition tips:

Step 2 – Decide on key categories of causes

Once the problem has been properly defined, one must then decide what areas of the problem or process are key to determining the actual cause. These can be unique for your fishbone or based on a template .

For our example, three possible key areas to consider could be:

If one starts considering potential causes, most of them would fall within one of these three categories. If you felt marketing had a large impact on your retention figures, you could add that as a fourth area. You can have any number of areas, but for simplicity, limiting yourself to no more than 10 is recommended.

Fishbone diagram example

The Fishbone diagram – decide on the key areas

Key area decision tips:

Step 3 – Determine actual causes of the problem

Now that the areas are defined, we go through each one and try to determine all the individual influences that can affect our output. We look at each category and list everything that we can think of, which falls within it.

If we look at the subscription system, some possible causes to investigate are:

When considering the user, potential causes may be:

Coming to the software itself, potential causes may be:

These are just a few potential causes. You should fill your fishbone diagram with as many different causes as you are able to come up with. Not every area of your fishbone needs to have causes listed, though (especially when using a template), and some areas will have more causes than others.

You now have a starting point for your root cause determination. To progress, you need to investigate each cause to establish its actual effect on your output.

Fishbone diagram example

The Fishbone diagram – determine actual causes

Actual cause determination tips:

Step 4 – Using tools to plan the way forward

As mentioned earlier, creating a fishbone diagram does not lead to solutions on its own. Further tools are needed to identify the effect that each cause has on output, and ultimately select the causes you want to control.

Process Map

A process map is basically a flowchart of a specific system, which shows all of its inputs and outputs. It works best in areas like the manufacturing industry, where you have a clearly defined process, with individual steps that each product goes through.

Process mapping involves looking at each step of the process one by one and listing all the potential influences. In an actual manufacturing environment, this may include being present on the production line and viewing the system, taking notes as you go through the process.

A process map is very effective at ensuring that all steps and influences in a system are considered. By defining a process map, you can clearly identify potential causes and add them to your fishbone diagram.


Brainstorming is a fairly common tool used in modern businesses. Instead of considering all of the factors of a fishbone diagram by yourself, include others in the process. When working alone, one is likely to overlook certain areas and completely miss others.

A brainstorming session should be a clearly defined meeting involving problem role-players. Someone must lead the session, taking note of ideas offered by members of the team, and allowing time to discuss matters that lack consensus.

The key to a successful brainstorming session is balancing a structured meeting while ensuring all relevant topics are discussed. The main output from a brainstorming session would be a list of causes to input into your fishbone diagram.

Make sure once your fishbone diagram is concluded that the following steps are clear to all team members. This may involve delegating tasks to other members and ensuring that clear deadlines are set to allow for follow-up.

Forward planning tips:

Working on a fishbone diagram in a remote team

Fishbone diagrams are more effective when multiple people are involved in their creation. For many who telecommute or work in teams in separate locations, this can be hard to achieve. You can try out Miro online whiteboard for collaborating on a fishbone diagram in real-time. You can use the pre-made fishbone diagram template together with integrated video and audio functionality, without the need for additional software.

Collaborating tips:

For any situation where you need to understand all of the contributing factors, a fishbone diagram can help. Don’t get caught up trying to do something quickly before you understand the whole system. Take the time to prepare a fishbone diagram and ensure that the work you do is going to address the key aspects and add value.

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Fishbone diagram

Fishbone diagram: Solving problems properly

Every company faces its own problems. Often managing directors and employees are forced to deal with new challenges every day. But how wise is it having to overcome the same obstacles every day? Instead of dealing with the symptoms, the root of the problem must be addressed. But finding the cause of a problem is not an easy task. The fishbone diagram assists in identifying the cause of a problem.

What is the fishbone diagram?

Step 1: stating the problem, step 2: defining the main influencing factors, step 3: stating the causes, step 4: setting priorities, step 5: taking measures, advantages and disadvantages of the fishbone method.

The fishbone diagram, invented by Ishikawa Kaoru, a Japanese chemist, (hence why it is also referred to as the Ishikawa diagram) aims to help companies find solutions to problems and their causes in a structured way . It is therefore also called the cause-effect diagram . Every problem, requiring a sustainable solution, is graphically illustrated with its respective causes in the diagram.

The problem that needs to be addressed is on the right side of the diagram. It is written down before any other observations are made. Be as accurate as possible when describing the problem and write it on the right hand side of the flip chart or blackboard. You then draw a line or an arrow to the left i.e. pointing towards the problem. Several other lines branch off from this main line: the possible causes of the problem. When specifying the potential causes of the problem, you can use several methods: the 4M method, and its extensions the 5M and 8M methods, are frequently used. They refer to the main influencing factors of processes, which often lead to problems.

The 4M method uses the following main influencing factors:

The 5M method also uses the additional factor of:

When using the 8M method , three additional factors are used:

It is not always mandatory to use 4, 5 or 8 factors for the fishbone diagram. Instead, all relevant factors for the problem should be addressed. And you can of course use other terms that do not begin with M.

The lines branching off from the main line list the actual causes of the problem and are arranged according to the appropriate categories. These causes should be identified very explicitly as opposed to the rather broadly defined main influencing factors.

This graph resembles a fish skeleton, which is why the Ishikawa diagram is also known as the fishbone diagram.

Example of a fishbone diagram

Cause-effect diagrams in practice

As an example of how this diagram can be applied in practice, imagine a company with insufficient customer support. This company receives repeated complaints that the hotline does not offer any help.

As a first step, the problem must be stated precisely: “Insufficient support” is not a good enough statement for our example. The more detailed the problem is explained, the more effective the fishbone diagram can be. The problem is written to the right of the arrow.

Now the possible categories of causes, which lead to this problem, must be defined. In our example we use all the terms of the 8M method.

These basic factors are now added to the fishbone diagram. Lines branch off from the main line to these terms.

Next to the category lines, the specific causes of the problem can be added. It is recommended to complete the fishbone diagram as a team . In particular, it should be done with those employees, who are directly involved in the problem-causing processes. The team should be mixed since if people with different expertise are involved, there’s more chance it will lead to extraordinary ideas . Brainstorming is required in order to find the causes. As a group all potential causes are to be identified.

For example, under “Material” it would be a good idea to comment on the type of customer inquiry. Also “Lack of knowledge on the customer’s part” as well as “Rudeness of the customer” could be added.

When analyzing the problem, further subcategories can be elaborated upon . With such a level of detail, the causes of the problem can then be determined. For example, the rudeness of the customers could be explained by excessively long waiting times on the hotline.

In order to find the real cause of a problem, the 5W method is used. Here the “why” question is asked five times in order to get to the root of the problem.

A solution to the problem requires time. Rushing the process is counter-productive. If a cause is overlooked, the whole project might be in peril. If you try to find the causes of a problem too quickly, you’ll be in danger of discovering only some of the causes but overlooking the most important ones.

In the best-case scenario, you’ll be able to see the causes of a specific problem emerging after creating a fishbone diagram. But it is not effective if you tackle all issues simultaneously. If you spend your energy and resources in this manner, there is a risk of investing a lot of time and effort in solving a problem, without remedying any cause. It is important to concentrate on only one cause of the problem - namely the most important one!

Priorities can also be set as a team. Each employee state their opinion as to what is the most serious cause of the problem. Continuing using the diagram, each person can evaluate the seriousness of the causes by giving points. The cause with the most points will then be the top priority. Before the vote , it is important to discuss the problem so that everybody has the same level of knowledge on it and does not rely on their gut feeling.

Not all issues listed in the fishbone diagram need to be actual causes. Suspicions may also be added to the diagram. When choosing the possible cause to be addressed first, it is therefore also important to consider probabilities (“How likely is it that the problem is being caused by…?”).

The last step is to tackle the problem by eradicating the cause or causes. However, it is first necessary to check whether the correct cause has been identified at all. This can be verified with a significance test, so that suitable methods can be identified to solve the problems.

The cause-effect diagram is only one of many tools for optimizing work processes. In order to obtain the highest possible efficiency, however, it also is recommended to know the Pareto principle , according to which 80 percent of the results can be achieved with 20 percent of the total effort.

The cause-effect diagram provides a creative approach to problem-solving within an organization. The graphic illustration and the joint development of the diagram often lead to new insights, even when things seem to stall. But it is important to remember that the fishbone diagram simplifies things a lot . Often the complexity of business processes is ignored. Thus, neither temporal causalities nor mutual correlations may be represented.

In addition, there is a risk of creating chaos if the complexity of the problem is illustrated comprehensively in a diagram. The aim of the fishbone method is to create order in order to solve a problem. By classifying into categories and subcategories, the problem becomes more tangible and can be solved more systematically. Despite the creativity needed, the method also requires a disciplined approach to reduce the relevant issues in order to remain effective.

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Balanced Scorecard

Is your business strategy working out? The balanced scorecard by Kaplan and Norton can help you answer this question. It enables a comprehensive analysis of the company from various perspectives; it also provides useful key indicators on where there may be shortcomings in the company. Identify the success factors at all levels of your company to ensure long-term success.

PDCA cycle

Continuous improvement and continuous learning: with PDCA, you ensure sustainable changes in both work and private life. The model, also known as the Deming cycle, helps to improve all possible situations – through an iterative, cyclical, and controlled process. How do you apply PDCA correctly?

Six Sigma Method

Six Sigma is one of the most commonly used process optimization and quality management methods in companies. This method sets itself apart through its foundation in math and its clear focus on being able to measure change. In the following article, we show you how the Six Sigma method works, what benefits you can gain from it, and how to put it into practice.

Continuous Improvement Process

Constant increases in quality: That works best with ongoing, small improvements. CIP – the continuous improvement process – provides the right framework for this. Every employee should see it as their task to recommend improvements for their area of work. And that can be quite simple: Even reorganizing the workplace can have a great impact.

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fishbone method of solving problems

Fishbone Diagram

A fishbone diagram, also known as an Ishikawa diagram or cause and effect diagram, is a tool used to identify the root causes of a problem. It is named after Japanese quality control expert Kaoru Ishikawa, who developed the concept in the 1960s. Organizations across a variety of industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, and service use the fishbone diagram to identify and analyze the factors that contribute to a particular problem or issue.

Teams typically use a fishbone diagram to identify all of the possible causes of a specific problem or effect. You construct it by drawing a horizontal line with the problem or effect written at the end, and then drawing lines coming off of the central line to represent the different categories of causes. Teams typically label it with the major contributing factors, such as people, equipment, materials, environment, and methods.

Once a team determines the categories, the next step is to brainstorm and list out all of the potential causes within each category. You then draw the causes as branches off of the main lines, with each branch representing a specific cause.

Once a team has identified and listed all of the causes, the next step is to analyze the relationships between the causes to identify the root causes of the problem. You can do this through a variety of techniques, such as the 5 Whys method, which involves asking why the problem occurs repeatedly until the root cause is identified.

Once a team has identified the root causes, the next step is to develop and implement solutions to address those root causes. This can involve making changes to processes, equipment, training, or other factors that contribute to the problem.

The fishbone diagram is a valuable tool for identifying and addressing the root causes of a problem. By systematically analyzing the factors that contribute to a problem, organizations can develop effective solutions and improve the overall performance and quality of their processes.

Fishbone Diagram Example

A fishbone diagram breaking down a service problem (5% of our customers receive the wrong order) across man, machine, method, material, and environment.

When building a fishbone team members should be careful to include only the actual physical causes. It can be tempting to include items someone believes is happening or wishes were happening. Consequently, a fishbone can turn into a “wishbone” diagram.

Additional Resources on the Fishbone Diagram

Managing to Learn: Using the A3 management process

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fishbone method of solving problems

Cause and effect analysis with a fishbone (Ishikawa) diagram

April 6, 2023 8 min read 2497 108

fishbone method of solving problems

Imagine you have been tasked with solving a problem: customers are experiencing lag while attempting to check out from their carts. Specifically, the app takes two minutes to transition from the cart page to the payment page once a customer clicks Continue .

What would you do? The first question that comes to mind is “why,” right? To answer this question, you’ll need to identify all the steps that customers take when checking out, and then assess how each step is performing. Together, these answers will enable you to determine the exact point in the checkout process where the problem is occurring.

This is called “root cause analysis” — you tried to list all the possibilities that could have created this problem. And out of all possibilities, you found which likely created the problem.

Let’s refer to the problem as the “effect,” and all the potential causes you identified during your analysis as the “causes.” Now, imagine trying to represent this cause-and-effect analysis visually. What types of diagrams could you create?

Maybe a tree whose roots are the effect and all the branches as the cause(s). Or maybe an Excel table listing all the causes and sub-causes in columns. Those are all good options, but in this article, we’ll discuss a cause-and-effect diagram (also called a fishbone diagram or Ishikawa diagram).

Table of contents

The history behind fishbone diagrams, when to use a fishbone diagram, the 5 s’s, advantages and disadvantages of fishbone diagrams, fishbone diagram template, how product managers can use fishbone diagrams, the process type fishbone diagram, what is a fishbone diagram.

To start, a fishbone diagram (or Ishikawa diagram) is a tool to visually explore and represent the possible causes of an effect. The tool helps in identifying the potential causes that could have caused the problem.

A sample fishbone diagram looks like this:

Fishbone Diagram Black

It is called a fishbone as it looks like the skeleton of a fish. The head of the fish explains the problem statement (or the effect) and the bones attached explain the possible cause and sub-causes.

Although the early history of fishbone analysis is slightly unclear, fishbone diagrams are believed to have been in use since the 1920s. However, it was during the 1960s that the diagram gained widespread popularity, thanks to the work of Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa on quality management processes for Kawasaki Shipyards.

It’s believed that Ishikawa first presented the fishbone analysis method in 1945, as part of the development of a company-wide quality control process. The creation of quality improvement processes and tools, along with the introduction of quality circles, played a significant role in the evolution of the concept of total quality management. The Ishikawa diagram became recognized as one of the seven basic quality tools.

The purpose of the fishbone diagram is to identify all the root causes of a problem. You can use fishbone analysis in product development — let’s list a few cases where you should use fishbone analysis:

You can apply the fishbone analysis tool to most applications that need an establishment of quality control and management.

Now, we’ll go over the fishbone diagram and how you can apply it to multiple industries. Most businesses fall into one of these operation areas: services, manufacturing, and marketing, each of which can use a different fishbone diagram. While manufacturing may not be directly relevant to digital products, the fishbone diagram can still be a useful tool for uncovering problems and identifying potential causes. You can modify them accordingly to fit the context of your product.

Let’s start with the 4 Ws: what, why, when, and where. Applying these will help you find the possible potential causes for any effect. This is a good way to brainstorm and all fishbone diagrams must start with these, regardless of the industry you’re in. The 4 Ws are:

Many businesses in the service industry indeed share similarities when it comes to cause analysis in their operational areas. Specifically, the 5 S’s (systems, suppliers, surroundings, safety, and skills) can be applied to cause and effect analysis within the service business.

fishbone method of solving problems

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fishbone method of solving problems

While all service businesses don’t need to conduct a complete cause analysis using the 5 S’s, many find that these principles can be applied at the initial levels and then gradually approached more thoroughly as they identify potential causes within their unique environment:

The 5 S's Fishbone Diagram

Systems are the methods, policies, processes, products, and tools used to build operational excellence and provide service without any failure.

Suppliers are any issues in delivering the service itself, like lower quality of service, failure to support customers, delay in refunding payments, agents or vendors delay, and more.

Surroundings are any external factors such as market, competition, public relations, brand value/image, etc. that may contribute to the issue.

Skills focus on finding issues in training, qualifications, skill set, and the experience of employees providing the service.

Safety focuses on finding issues in the system’s overall safety, products, operational procedures, and work environment.

Though the 6 Ms apply mainly to the manufacturing industry, you can transfer this framework into the software industry as well. Since digital products don’t have physical parts, not all of them will be relevant, but we’ll highlight them anyway:

The 6 Ms Fishbone Diagram

Material focuses on finding issues in any raw materials used for manufacturing. This includes issues with the quantity or quality of supplies, any issues with the timeline of procurement and supply, and more.

Method focuses on finding issues in processes, policies, regulations, training, and guidelines used by companies. Though this is relevant to manufacturing physical goods, these apply to digital products as well (in context).

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Machine focuses on finding issues in machines that are used in manufacturing (production). This will help uncover any issues with the maintenance of machines, any failures in the machine or assembly line, etc.

Mother nature , aka the environment, focuses on finding issues in environmental conditions. For physical goods, this could mean issues with temperature, light conditions, etc. For digital products, this could mean issues with servers going down, weather causing latency problems, and more.

Manpower (aka people) focuses on finding issues in the workforce. This means any issues with the work itself, employee burnout, training and skill sets, and more.

Measurement focuses on finding issues in measuring the process and results. This is huge in any business, as metrics and measuring success are vital to the health of a company. Use this to find any issues in quality readings, calculations, and more.

There are 7 Ps that can be commonly applied in cause analysis. These are all related to marketing businesses, but nearly all physical and digital products have marketing functions that affect their product and that this can apply to:

The 7 Ps Fishbone Diagram

People focuses on finding issues in people involved in marketing a product or service to customers. This implies issues with not targeting the right audience or marketers not having a good understanding of the product.

Product is focused on finding issues in the product or service of an organization. This could be several things, including the perceived image of the product , issues with availability to reach customers, or failure to meet customer needs .

Process works on finding issues in procedures for promoting and marketing the product or service. Are there any gaps in cross-functional team collaboration ? Are they any issues with the escalation matrix?

Price is a big one. This is where to uncover issues in the pricing of the product or service. Is the price too low? Maybe it’s too high? Are there any issues with the price range not matching the competition or with accepting certain payment methods?

Promotion focuses on finding issues in promotion methods, mediums, and strategies. Are social media advertisements reaching the right audience? Is it generating enough clicks?

Place identifies problems with the location of your product. Are there any issues with the availability of your product on particular devices?

Physical evidence is the last of the Ps. It focuses on finding issues in the direct visibility of your product or service. If it has a physical component, is there a problem with the packaging? Physical evidence literally implies any physical issues with the product getting into the hands of customers.

There are many advantages you carry when you use a fishbone diagram as a tool for your cause analysis, including:

There are also a few limitations that can make fishbone diagrams difficult to use, including:

If you’d like a fishbone diagram template to work with, you can download this one I made on Google Sheets . Feel free to make a copy of it and customize it for your own use.

If you’d like to try to create a fishbone diagram yourself for your own team and organization, here are some common steps to make and analyze it:

Let’s draw the fishbone diagram for a digital product. We’ll use the problem we listed at the beginning where customers are facing problems during the checkout process:

Fishbone Diagram Case Study Of Checkout Issue Example

While this list may not be comprehensive, it does cover many potential causes that could lead to delays in opening the payments page. It’s important to note that during a brainstorming session, many potential causes can arise, but it’s important to focus on the most likely causes to address first. In this case, we’ve highlighted a sub-cause in red that represents the result of the analysis and the area that should be addressed.

There are many cases where product managers have to analyze the cause of a problem, and a fishbone diagram is a powerful tool for product managers to benefit from. Its easy and quick creation helps quickly narrow down potential causes and act upon them.

A few examples where product managers can make use of fishbone diagram are:

A not-so-popular and not-so-in-use flavor for creating fishbone diagrams is the process-type fishbone diagram. It’s very similar but has a small change in the drawing:

Process Type Fishbone Diagram

The main bone of the fish is divided into multiple cause areas. Team brainstorms potential causes that could have created the problem in each of these areas. It is called process type because each area in the main bone (mostly) represents a process, but each area in the main bone also represents a department. Causes are explored in the process of each department as a result.

These diagrams are not that popular but are an efficient way to involve multiple cross-functional teams from various departments.

Kaoru Ishikawa popularized the fishbone diagram to analyze the root cause of any problem. It is also called the Ishikawa diagram or cause and effect diagram.

One can use the 4 Ws — what, why, when, and where — to begin cause analysis. Based on industry type, there are common areas of cause analysis: the 5 S’ for services, 6 Ms for manufacturing, and 7 Ps for marketing. If your company or product has a combination of these, you can create multiple fishbone diagrams to get to the root cause of your issue.

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What is a fishbone diagram—and what can it do for you?

fishbone diagram cover photo

Any bump in the design process can be a learning opportunity. Maybe an unexpected setback is delaying product development, or you're worried your next release may not get rave customer reviews. Whatever issue you’re facing, the fishbone diagram is a simple and effective brainstorming tool that can help you solve problems—and keep them from cropping up in the first place.

Read on to learn more about:

Get started with FigJam's free fishbone diagram template today.

What’s a fishbone diagram?

A fishbone diagram is also known as the cause-and-effect diagram, because it highlights the causes of a current or potential problem, or any other deviation from your team’s standard workflow.  Companies use fishbone diagrams to help streamline processes, boost customer satisfaction, and drive better business outcomes.

The diagram actually looks like a fish skeleton. A horizontal arrow represents the fish spine and points to the problem (or effect), which is the head of the fish. Shorter arrows act as the fish ribs, branching out to expose the problem’s causes.

How the fishbone method solves problems

The fishbone method of analysis helps teams go deep with their problem-solving, uncovering key factors teams can target and troubleshoot. When used effectively, a fishbone diagram can help you 1 :

5 steps to create a fishbone diagram

Build your own fishbone diagram in five steps 2 :

Step 1: Define the problem.

Create a clear, concise problem statement. This should address a known issue or one you’re trying to prevent, such as “customer satisfaction rate for our app has fallen 20%.” Use FigJam’s online whiteboard to brainstorm and agree on a problem statement. Or try FigJam’s fishbone diagram template .

Step 2: Label potential issues.

You can use the six labels in the classic fishbone diagram (see sidebar), or create your own set of categories to suit the product and problem facing your team. For example, Mazda chose styling, touch, cornering, driving, listening, and braking as key issues to address in developing the MX5 Miata sports car.

Step 3: Brainstorm all possible causes.

Ask why this problem occurred, and organize possible causes by category. For example, under the people category, you might list causes for a drop in customer satisfaction as staff burnout, lack of training, or employee turnover. Some causes may fit under more than one category.

Step 4: Add more detail to your fishbone analysis.

Keep asking why to further identify sub-causes that contribute to the problem. FigJam’s 5 whys template will help you dig deeper.

Step 5: Review each cause and develop action items.

Work with your team to create a list of action items that will help solve the problem. Invite your team to check the finished diagram, making sure no detail has been overlooked (see sidebar).

Creative examples of fishbone diagrams

Popularized in Japan’s manufacturing industry in the 1960s, the fishbone or Ishikawa diagram is now industry-standard in multiple fields. From healthcare and higher education to retail and high tech, fishbone diagrams  help teams improve and innovate.

For inspiration, consider these creative examples from a range of industries:

The classic 6-rib fishbone diagram

A typical fishbone diagram includes six ribs , each labeled with a potential issue to address. This could include:

Fishbone analysis pitfalls to avoid

The simplicity of a fishbone diagram makes it easy to use and understand, but it can also make it harder to prioritize tasks. Of all the causes identified in a fishbone diagram, a problem’s main causes aren’t necessarily ranked ahead of minor ones. It’s up to you and your team to prioritize issues that will have the most impact versus those that won’t.

Fishbone diagrams can sometimes reflect human biases, so you'll need to work to maintain objectivity. Gather input from key players across your company to ensure your fishbone analysis is valid and complete.

Bone up on your fishbone diagrams with FigJam

Problem-solving is a team sport. Work together to zero in on root causes using FigJam’s online collaborative whiteboard , then organize them with FigJam’s ready-made fishbone diagram template . If you’d rather make one from scratch, use FigJam’s free diagramming tools to:

Want to see an example of a fishbone diagram created in FigJam? Check out these inspiring fishbone diagrams shared by the Figma community .

Now you’ve got what you need to solve problems—and prevent them, too.

Go to next section

[1] https://6sigma.com/benefits-of-using-the-fishbone-diagram/

[2] https://www.ahrq.gov/sites/default/files/wysiwyg/ncepcr/resources/job-aid-5-whys.pdf


5 Whys: How to Uncover Root Causes [Examples]

By Status.net Editorial Team on May 18, 2023 — 12 minutes to read

The Five Whys technique is a simple and effective tool for identifying the root cause of an issue. It involves asking “why” repeatedly (up to five times) to dig deeper into the underlying causes of a problem and to uncover the chain of events leading up to it. Developed by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Industries, this approach has become an essential part of problem-solving and continuous improvement in various industries.

By asking “why” multiple times, the Five Whys method helps us avoid settling for surface-level explanations, which can often hide the true causes of a problem. This technique promotes a culture of curiosity and encourages teams to collaboratively explore all possible answers until the core issue becomes evident. In turn, this allows for the development of effective and targeted solutions, resulting in long-lasting improvements rather than temporary fixes.

For example, consider a scenario where the production line in a factory has slowed down significantly. By employing the Five Whys technique, the team might discover that faulty machinery is the immediate issue (first “why”). Further investigation might reveal a lack of maintenance as the cause (second “why”). After a few more iterations, the team might uncover a gap in training for maintenance workers (fifth “why”) as the root cause, which can then be addressed by implementing a comprehensive training program.

Related: Root Cause Analysis (RCA) Methods for Effective Problem Solving 3 Root Cause Analysis Templates (and Examples) Fishbone Diagram (Components, Factors, Examples)

History of Five Whys

The Five Whys technique has its roots in the Toyota Production System, developed by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Motor Corporation. Sakichi believed that by asking “Why?” repeatedly, one could identify the core of any problem and develop effective solutions. This approach was later refined and promoted by Taiichi Ohno, known as the father of the Toyota Production System.

In its early days, the Five Whys method was adopted by Toyota to improve its manufacturing processes and eliminate waste, contributing significantly to the company’s global success. By implementing this simple yet powerful approach, Toyota was able to identify root causes of recurring issues and develop long-term, sustainable solutions.

Over time, the Five Whys technique has gained popularity beyond its use within the automotive industry. Today, it is employed in various fields and organizations as a valuable problem-solving tool. Its effectiveness stems from its simplicity, allowing individuals and teams to quickly identify, understand, and address the underlying causes of an issue, rather than merely treating the symptoms.

Here are some examples of the Five Whys in action:

Understanding the Five Whys Process

Root cause analysis.

The Five Whys process is a practical approach to root cause analysis. Its primary goal is to identify the underlying cause of a problem, rather than fixing it temporarily. By asking “why” repeatedly, a team can delve deeper into the issue and assess the contributing factors. This scientific approach to problem-solving enables a team to address the root cause and prevent the problem from recurring.

The process begins by stating the problem, followed by asking “why” the problem exists. Each successive answer becomes the subject of the next “why” question until the root cause is identified. Typically, five questions are sufficient, although more or fewer may be necessary depending on the situation. The Five Whys process encourages open communication and collaboration among team members in order to effectively solve problems.

Iterative Interrogative Technique

The iterative interrogative technique in the Five Whys process promotes continuous improvement by emphasizing critical thinking. It helps team members to approach problem-solving with a clear mindset, focusing on the reasons for the problem instead of quick fixes. Continuous improvement is vital for maintaining a high level of performance in any organization.

Throughout the process, team members should be encouraged to ask questions and contribute their perspectives. This dialogue fosters a culture of learning and improvement where everyone’s input is valued. Note that it is essential to keep an open mind and focus on facts rather than assumptions when seeking the root cause of a problem.

Five Whys in Decision-Making

The Five Whys technique is a simple and effective tool in decision-making, helping identify the root causes of problems to reach a more informed decision. By asking “Why?” five times, it leads to deeper levels of understanding. This approach can enhance decision-making processes by promoting a systematic method to explore underlying issues.

Using the Five Whys technique in decision-making enables a more comprehensive analysis by encouraging reflection on multiple facets of an issue. It highlights the value of understanding the root causes before finalizing decisions, which can result in more informed and deliberate choices.

The benefits of using the Five Whys in decision-making include better allocation of resources, enhanced problem-solving skills, and more sustainable solutions to challenges. Through this method, decision-makers can effectively address recurring problems, reducing the likelihood of similar issues in the future.

Example 1: A project is continually behind schedule, which impacts profitability.

Example 2: Customer complaints have increased in recent months, affecting brand reputation.

Example 3: Product defects have led to a decline in sales and an increase in returns.

The Role of Five Whys in Process Improvement

The Five Whys technique is an essential tool for effective process improvement in various industries. Primarily used in Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma, and Kaizen methodologies, it helps to identify root causes of problems and fosters continuous and quality improvement. The purpose of Five Whys is to prevent issues from recurring and make informed decisions for sustainable enhancements in performance.

When implementing continuous improvement practices, it is crucial to understand that issues often have deeper underlying causes than what appears on the surface. The Five Whys method encourages identifying these causes through an iterative, question-based process to reveal the true origin of the problem.

A common application of Five Whys is in quality improvement initiatives, where the technique ensures that improvements focus on addressing the root cause of a defect rather than just the symptoms. This fundamental approach helps organizations eliminate waste and inefficiencies in their processes and systems.

In conclusion, here are a few examples of how the Five Whys technique can empower various process improvement methodologies:

Criticisms and Limitations of the Five Whys

Human factor.

The Five Whys technique relies heavily on people’s ability to accurately identify root causes, which can be influenced by personal bias or lack of expertise. This may lead to incorrect conclusions and can potentially hinder problem-solving efforts. Moreover, the technique does not account for complex issues with multiple root causes or unknown factors, which may require a more comprehensive approach.

For example, in a manufacturing setting, the reason for a machine malfunction might not be immediately apparent. A human operator might mistakenly attribute the issue to a single cause, such as inadequate maintenance, while ignoring other factors, such as equipment age or external influences like temperature fluctuations.

Overemphasis on Blame

The Five Whys approach can unintentionally create a focus on blaming individuals, teams, or departments for identified issues instead of fostering a culture of continuous improvement and shared responsibility. By repeatedly asking why, team members might feel that they are being interrogated and may become defensive, affecting morale and trust .

Other Problem-Solving Techniques

Fishbone diagram.

The Five Whys technique and the Fishbone Diagram both serve as problem-solving methodologies, but they have distinct differences. The Fishbone Diagram, also known as the cause-and-effect diagram, is a visual tool that illustrates the possible causes of a specific problem. It helps identify, sort and categorize these possible causes across several aspects, such as materials, equipment, process or people. It’s often used in engineering or manufacturing to pinpoint the root cause of defects.

The Five Whys technique, on the other hand, relies on asking a series of “why” questions to delve into the reasons behind a problem. This method digs deeper into cause-and-effect relationships to uncover hidden issues or underlying factors that contribute to the problem.

Learn more: Fishbone Diagram (Components, Factors, Examples)

Ishikawa Diagram

An Ishikawa Diagram is essentially another name for a Fishbone Diagram. It is so called because it was developed by Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa, who pioneered quality management processes in the Kawasaki shipyards. Just like the Fishbone Diagram, it serves as a visual representation of possible causes of a problem and categorizes them into various aspects, making it easier for the team to identify and address the root cause.

Compared to the Five Whys technique, the Ishikawa Diagram focuses on visually organizing causes, which can be particularly useful for complex problems with multiple factors. The Five Whys, while more straightforward, encourages a deeper understanding of the problem through a series of questions to uncover the root cause.

Learn more: Ishikawa Diagram: Examples and Applications

Poka-Yoke is a Japanese term that translates to “mistake-proofing” or “error-proofing.” It’s a concept that focuses on preventing errors by designing processes and systems to eliminate human error or reduce its impact. Unlike the Five Whys technique, which aims to identify the root cause of a problem after it has happened, Poka-Yoke is a proactive approach to ensure that defects do not occur in the first place.

The Five Whys technique can complement Poka-Yoke by helping organizations understand how their processes have failed and subsequently implementing error-proofing measures based on the identified root causes.

Learn more: What is Poka-Yoke? (Examples, Principles, Methods)


Guide to understanding fishbone diagrams

fishbone method of solving problems

What is a fishbone diagram?

A fishbone diagram is a visualization tool used in business to identify and investigate the many possible causes of a particular event, issue, or outcome. Fishbone diagrams are also known as cause and effect diagrams or Ishikawa diagrams , the latter named for the diagram's original creator, Japanese organizational theorist Kaoru Ishikawa.

Fishbone diagrams are a valuable tool for root cause analysis (RCA), as they provide a systematic framework for exploring all possible causes of a problem, not just the most obvious ones.

Fishbone diagram elements

As the name implies, fishbone diagrams are shaped like fish—or, rather, fish skeletons. The parts of the fish represent certain parts of the cause-and-effect scenario you're exploring.

Types of fishbone diagrams

There are a few main types of fishbone diagrams, each with unique features and ideal use cases. Review the different types, and choose which one is the best fit for your needs.

The simple fishbone

The most commonly used fishbone diagram is the simple fishbone. This type of diagram does not have predefined categories, so you are free to use whatever categories or labels make the most sense for your scenario. Simple fishbone diagrams can be used in any industry or function.

The 4S fishbone

On a 4S fishbone diagram, the four "bones" branching off from the spine are systems, surroundings, skills, and suppliers. The 4S fishbone is popular in the service industry and can be used to solve problems like poor customer feedback or high customer churn.

The 8P fishbone

The 8P method is a problem-solving method that classifies possible causes of a problem into eight groups: physical evidence, personnel, place, product (service), price, promotion, process, and productivity/quality. The 8P fishbone is commonly used to solve problems within the service industry, manufacturing, and administrative functions.

The man machines materials fishbone

The man machines materials fishbone is another fishbone diagram with predefined categories. This type of diagram is mostly used in manufacturing. It was developed to help people focus on various causes rather than automatically blaming an issue on human error.

Examples of when to use a fishbone diagram

Fishbone diagrams are a useful tool for problem-solving , especially for tricky problems and ones that could stem from various causes.

If you're still wondering when to use a fishbone diagram to support your problem-solving activities, read these fishbone diagram examples.

Product development

In product development projects, fishbone diagrams are useful for exploring market opportunities and identifying issues with current market offerings. To ensure your new products are truly filling a gap in the market, use a fishbone diagram to thoroughly explore your target customers' problems and the causes of those problems.

Troubleshooting processes

When a process or workflow isn't producing the desired outcomes, fishbone diagrams can help you diagnose the issues. When you do a deep dive into potential causes, it becomes easier to find the right solutions.

Root cause analysis

Fishbone diagrams provide a visual framework for root cause analysis and exploration. RCA methodology involves deeply investigating the underlying issues of problems that pop up, not just treating surface-level symptoms and putting out fires.

Benefits of fishbone diagrams

Benefits of fishbone diagrams

Fishbone diagrams help you visualize and explore the underlying causes of a particular problem. Top benefits of fishbone diagrams include:

Identifying potential causes of a problem

The main benefit of a fishbone diagram is its ability to help you identify potential causes of a problem. With the different types of fishbone diagrams available, there is a layout to fit any type of business problem in any industry. You can use a diagram with predefined categories or assign your own categories to fit your needs.

Revealing areas of weakness or bottlenecks in current processes

With a fishbone diagram, you can ensure no stone remains unturned as you study the problem. As you explore potential causes, the fishbone diagram will reveal any areas of weakness or bottlenecks in your current processes. You'll be able to address these issues, and any other root causes you uncover along the way.

Accelerating problem-solving

Most people are visual learners, and visual aids are proven to boost memory retention and recall. The visual format of the fishbone diagram accelerates the problem-solving process, helping you organize and categorize your thoughts and findings within a logical structure.

How to make a fishbone diagram

To get started making a fishbone diagram, follow these steps:

Why use MindManager to make fishbone diagrams

Why use MindManager to make fishbone diagrams

With a fishbone diagram software like MindManager , problem-solving and root cause analysis is changed forever—for the better. Features of MindManager include:

When you use MindManager as your fishbone diagram maker, you'll be able to quickly and easily record all the information you need, collaborate closely with your team, and gain a clearer perspective on the problem at hand and its potential causes.

Fishbone diagram templates

MindManager comes pre-installed with fishbone diagram templates. To use these templates:


Fishbone diagram FAQs

How is a fishbone diagram used for problem-solving.

Fishbone diagrams provide a visual framework for investigating the possible causes of a problem. They help you clearly sort ideas and explore various cause-and-effect connections within your business.

What is a fishbone diagram also known as?

There are many different names for the fishbone diagram. Some of the most common include:

Conquer cause and effect with a fishbone diagram

Fishbone diagrams provide a way to visually organize and examine the potential causes relating to a particular problem. There are multiple types of fishbone diagrams, and they're popular across various industries and functions, including manufacturing, service-based industries, and business administration.

With a fishbone diagram, you can more easily identify the causes of a problem, reveal areas of weakness in current business processes, and accelerate your problem-solving activities.

Visualize more with MindManager

MindManager's fishbone diagram maker features a user-friendly interface, numerous premade templates, and an extensive library of images to support your diagram. To make a fishbone diagram, try MindManager today .

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Curriculum, instruction, and pedagogy article, perceived use and value of reproductive, problem-solving, and athlete-initiated teaching by coaches and athletes.

fishbone method of solving problems

In the sports coaching environment, it is recognized that developing athletes’ autonomy and problem-solving skills are crucial to support holistic development and ensure optimal performance. However, there needs to be more information on how coaches use and value different teaching methods in training and how athletes perceive and value these methods. This study aimed to examine coaches’ and athletes’ perceptions of the use and value of reproductive, productive problem-solving, and productive athlete-initiated teaching methods. To this end, the Coaches’ Use of Teaching Methods Scale which is validated for the use of coaches and athletes, was applied to 70 coaches and their 294 athletes of youth sports teams purposefully selected from four cities in Türkiye. Data were analyzed by nonparametric methods, including Friedman’s and Mann–Whitney tests ( p  < 0.05). Although there were statistically significant differences between the responses of coaches and athletes regarding the use of different teaching methods in their training and the value they gave to these methods, both groups marked the frequent use of reproductive, occasional use of productive problem-solving and rare use of productive athlete-initiated teaching methods during training. The value given to productive athlete-initiated teaching methods in terms of enjoyment, learning, and motivation by the athletes was higher than the value given to them by the coaches. The study’s findings strongly indicate the coaches’ professional needs in their pedagogical knowledge, specifically on their value perceptions of productive problem-solving and productive athlete-initiated teaching methods and the capacity to apply them.

1. Introduction

The primary indicator of effective coaching is athletes’ learning and its positive effect on their development in sport ( Côté and Gilbert, 2009 ). Prominent athlete development models such as Long-Term Athlete Development ( Balyi et al., 2013 ) and the Developmental Model of Sport Participation (the DMSP; Côté, 1999 ; Côté et al., 2007 ) emphasize biological age and maturation-dependent sport-specific competence (e.g., technique and fitness), and psychosocial skills such as athletes’ confidence and character development. These developmental frameworks provide coaches with conceptual guidance for coaching aims, content identification, implementation, and measurement and evaluation of their practice outcomes to improve athletes’ learning and performance at a sustainable level (e.g., Lauer and Dieffenbach, 2013 ).

Based on the coaching aims, setting the objectives, identifying the content, implementing training, and measuring and evaluating the outcomes should be well aligned to ensure athletes’ optimum development ( Bompa and Haff, 2009 ; Lara-Bercial et al., 2013 ). Studies examining the aims of contemporary coaching and the appropriate content to reach those aims stress the holistic development of athletes in all developmental areas and using relevant content during the training (sport-specific technique, fitness, tactics, psychosocial, and emotional development; Fraser-Thomas et al., 2005 ; Côté et al., 2010 ). In coaching and teaching literature, as the athletes’ performance develops, a need for higher-order learning in all developmental aspects of athletes with the recognition of their individual differences is underlined (e.g., Wikeley and Bullock, 2006 ; Cushion and Nelson, 2013 ). Specifically, athletes should develop deep learning capacity by having more opportunities for application, synthesis, evaluation, and creation in the cognitive domain ( Thorpe, 1997 ; Potrac and Cassidy, 2006 ; Cassidy et al., 2008 ), adaptation and organization in the psychomotor domain, and characterization by a value or value complex in the affective domain. Athletes’ superficial learning in these developmental areas may not be sufficient to realize the current training aims and improve sports performance significantly ( Wikeley and Bullock, 2006 , p. 18).

Presenting the content (how to teach/instruct) is a critical dimension of coaching knowledge ( Gilbert and Côté, 2013 ), which enables coaches’ training implementation. Coaches’ instructions may be beneficial or harmful to athletes’ development depending on the extent that they are informed about the optimal strategies for athletes’ learning and performance needs ( Gearity, 2012 ). Previous work on instructional aspects of coaching naturally depends on the theories of learning and instruction (e.g., Kidman, 2005 ; Armour, 2010 ). Accordingly, the intended learning in sport occurs most effectively when the learning intention and instructional strategies or teaching methods are correctly matched. Coaches need to be aware of the consequences of their instructional practices for coaching effectiveness (e.g., Cassidy et al., 2008 , p. 33).

For this reason, it is essential for coaches to understand the theories of learning (how athletes learn) and instruction (how coaches should teach) and to use them effectively in practice ( Light, 2008 ; Roberts and Potrac, 2014 ). Whenever the coaching focuses on ensuring higher-order learning, independent of coaching context ( Cassidy et al., 2008 ), direct teaching methods (reproductive: replication of a known model) would not be sufficient; coaches should also use productive teaching methods (production of knowledge and skills new to the athlete and/or coach), including productive problem-solving and productive athlete-initiated approaches in their training to facilitate deep learning ( Wikeley and Bullock, 2006 ; Ertmer and Newby, 2013 ; Pill et al., 2021 ). That brings about the necessity of coaches’ regular assessment of athletes’ higher-order learning in cognitive, psychomotor, and affective domains due to coaching practices. The current study focuses on the perceived use of various instructional strategies and teaching methods during training by coaches and athletes. The following paragraphs in this section will synthesize the related literature to create a rationale for the study.

In the sports education literature, teaching methods are usually characterized by Mosston and Ashworth’s (2008) spectrum of teaching styles. Mosston and Ashworth’s Spectrum of Teaching Styles identify 11 different teaching methods in a continuum from teacher-centered to learner-centered: A: Command, B: Practice, C: Reciprocal, D: Self-Check, E: Inclusion, F: Guided Discovery, G: Convergent Discovery, H: Divergent Discovery, I: Learner Designed Individual Program, J: Athlete-initiated, and K: Self Teaching. Teachers’ dominance of decision-making processes in planning, implementation, and measurement and evaluation of an outcome in the teaching process decreases as teaching styles progress from A to K. Styles from A to E use a direct teaching approach. Therefore, they are called reproductive methods of teaching in the sports education setting. The styles from E to K are more learner-centered, and the learner’s discovery of new information or skills is at their core. Due to their focus on learners’ discovery by problem-solving, styles from E to H can be named productive problem-solving (henceforth problem-solving) teaching methods. On the other hand, learner autonomy in the styles from I to K is dominant in planning, implementation, and measurement and evaluation of the outcome. They can be named under the title of productive athlete-initiated (henceforth athlete-initiated) teaching methods ( Kilic and Ince, 2017 ; Pill et al., 2021 ).

There is limited research on coaches’ use of teaching methods in their practices, although in many sport pedagogy textbooks (e.g., Kidman, 2005 ; Jones, 2006 ; Cassidy et al., 2008 ; Mitchell et al., 2020 ) and relevant work in teaching (e.g., Light, 2008 ) the importance of teaching methods, especially the use of learner/athlete-centered methods, is highlighted by well-known scholars in the field. Ample research indicates the use and value given to the various teaching methods by physical education teachers in school physical education classes. Those studies in physical education settings reported heavy use of teacher-centered reproductive teaching methods (e.g., command and practice) but occasional use of learner-centered approaches (e.g., problem-solving and athlete-initiated methods; Curtner-Smith et al., 2001 ; Cothran et al., 2005 ; Ince and Hunuk, 2010 ). Interestingly, these studies also reported that physical education teachers highly valued reproductive methods while valuing the learner-initiated teaching methods for learners’ learning, motivation, and enjoyment less.

A few pilot studies have been conducted to assess coaches’ use of teaching methods so far ( Ince and Kilic, 2016 ; Kilic and Ince, 2017 ). The findings of this work were similar to that of the school physical education setting. The preliminary results indicated the coaches’ tendency to use reproductive methods, especially command and practice, while rarely using problem-solving and athlete-initiated teaching methods.

Studies examining instruction in physical education and coach development settings have mainly focused on teachers’ practices (e.g., Ince and Hunuk, 2010 ) and coaches ( Potrac and Jones, 2009 ; Trudel et al., 2010 ). While the research on examining coaching behaviors indicated instruction is the most preferred and motivating form of coaching practice by athletes ( Gearity, 2012 ) coaches may lack the knowledge and ability to apply the types of instruction for different learning situations. Consequently, their instruction can be poor in meeting youth athletes’ unique learning needs ( Gearity, 2012 ). There needs to be a more profound understanding of coaches’ instructional practices and tendencies and, more importantly, athletes’ perceptions of coaching practices to improve coaching effectiveness. To our knowledge, how the athletes perceive the specific teaching methods coaches apply needs to be clarified in the coaching literature. Exploring the use of and value given to reproductive, problem-solving, and athlete-initiated teaching methods in coaching settings could provide critical information on the use and preference of athlete-centered discovery strategies in sports education settings better with the view of both coaches and their athletes. Such information would help design professional development programs for the coaches’ professional knowledge of improving youth athletes’ higher-order learning in the defined developmental areas.

Considering the rationale mentioned above, this study explores the coaches’ and their athletes’ perceived use and value of reproductive, problem-solving, and athlete-initiated teaching methods. To this end, the following research questions were asked;

1. What are the perceptions of coaches and athletes about the use of reproductive, problem-solving, and athlete-initiated teaching methods during training?

a. Are there any significant differences between the coaches’ perceived use of reproductive, problem-solving, and athlete-initiated teaching methods during the training?

b. Are there any significant differences in coaches’ use of reproductive, problem-solving, and athlete-initiated teaching methods during the training by the athletes’ perception?

2. Are there any significant differences between coaches and athletes in value given to reproductive, productive problem-solving, and productive athlete-initiated teaching methods concerning enjoyment, learning, and motivation during training?

2. Materials and methods

2.1. participants.

Coaches ( n  = 70) and their athletes ( n  = 294) of youth sports teams from Ankara, Istanbul, Bartın, and Kırşehir cities of Türkiye participated in the study. The coaches were between 18 and 50 years of age ( M  = 32.69), representing each level of coaching certificate in a 5-level coaching system ( M  = 2.61). In Türkiye, the first and second levels of coaching are equal to developmental level certification, while the higher levels represent elite coaching contexts at national and international levels ( GSD, 2019 ). The athletes’ ages were between 12 and 18, with an average of 4.90 years of sport experience (SD = 2.52). The athletes train 4.88 days a week (SD = 1.33). With respect to gender representation, 9 and 61 out of 70 coaches were women and men, respectively. Out of 294 athletes, 130 of them were women, and 164 of them were men. The representation of low women coaches in the sampling is related to the relatively low representation of women coaches in the study setting. According to Koca (2018 , p.142), 20–25% of the coach population in Türkiye are women. Demographics of coaches and athletes based on sports type are presented in Table 1 .


Table 1 . Demographic characteristics of participants.

2.2. Data collection instruments

A multi-perspective approach was adopted to measure coaches’ use and value perceptions of teaching methods. In examining the teaching methods applied during training and to what extent these methods were valued, the two versions of the “Coaches’ Use of Teaching Methods Scale” (CUTEMS-Coach/Athlete; Kılıç and İnce, 2019 , 2021a ) were used. The scales for coaches and athletes share the same structure but are worded slightly differently to reflect who is rating. For both versions of the scale, the items were generated based on the adapted form of the “Use of Teaching Styles and Perceptions of Styles Questionnaire” ( Kulinna and Cothran, 2003 ) for the Turkish physical education context by Ince and Hunuk (2010) . The scale items include 11 scenarios and four questions answered for each on a 5-point Likert scale (never to always). The 11 scenarios are broken down into three approaches of teaching methods, namely reproductive (items 1–5), problem-solving (items 6–8), and athlete-initiated (items 9–11) for both of the scales (See Table 2 for sample scenarios). The first question of each scenario is to determine the level of ‘coaches’ use of a teaching method (I train my athletes with this method/My coach trains with this method), and the other three questions are to examine the value perceptions about the teaching method regarding “enjoyment’, “learning’, and “‘motivation’ (e.g., I think this method will make training fun).


Table 2 . Sample scenarios for reproductive, problem-solving, and athlete-initiated teaching.

The scales were developed by first conducting exploratory factor analysis (EFA) and confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) on two different data comprised of 275 athletes and 148 athletes from various sports, respectively ( Kılıç and İnce, 2019 ). EFA findings revealed a 3-factor construct in line with the theoretical foundations (i.e., behaviorist, cognitivist, and constructivist approaches) the items fit in, with internal consistency values ranging from 0.72 to 0.81. CFA findings proved the construct validity of the scale subdimensions ( χ 2 / df  = 1.34; GFI = 0.93; CFI = 0.94; TLI = 0.92; RMSEA = 0.05). Then, the validity and reliability of the scale sub-dimensions for coaches were tested by examining the concurrent validity and internal consistency of ‘coaches’ and their ‘athletes’ ratings ( Kılıç and İnce, 2021a ). Findings showed strong correlations between the ratings of coaches and athletes for each subdimension (reproductive, r  = 0.83, p  < 0.01; problem-solving, r  = 0.62, p  < 0.01; athlete-initiated, r  = 62, p  < 0.01). Internal consistency values of the examined factors ranged from 0.69 to 0.86.

2.3. Data collection procedures

Before data collection, permission was obtained from the Research Ethics Committee of Middle East Technical University (No: 28620816/154). A purposeful sampling strategy was adopted to reach a highly representative number of competitive youth sports coaches and their athletes and select the coaches and athletes who have worked together for at least 1 year. While primarily aiming at collecting data within the largest cities of Türkiye (Ankara and İstanbul), two other smaller cities of Türkiye (Bartın and Kırşehir) were also included in the data collection to ensure the representativeness of coaches’ use of teaching methods in the study setting examined.

The first researcher collected the data by visiting the sport club settings. Coaches and their athletes completed the adapted versions of the scales (CUTEMS-Coach/Athlete). Athletes and coaches completed the scales separately to ensure the trustworthiness of responses. Coaches and athletes rated the scales considering the current coaching practices regarding teaching methods. Coaches and athletes completed the scales in approximately 15 min.

2.4. Data analysis

Data were initially screened for missing cases and matched the representation of coaches and their athletes in the data set. Fifty-six athletes from artistic gymnastics and’ ‘women’s rugby were eliminated from the data set due to a lack of their coaches’ data. Then, the data were examined to meet the normality assumptions. As coaches’ and athletes’ data on the use of teaching methods and the value given to teaching methods needed to meet the normality assumptions, the analyses were conducted by nonparametric tests. Perceived use of teaching methods data of coaches and athletes were analyzed separately by the Friedman test for the first research question.

Coaches’ and athletes’ comparison of the value given to teaching methods regarding enjoyment, learning, and motivation were analyzed by the Mann–Whitney U test ( p  < 0.05).

Rq1. What are the perceptions of coaches and athletes about the use of reproductive, problem-solving and athlete-initiated teaching methods during training?

Regarding the first research question, according to the descriptive analysis, both coaches and athletes reported the predominant use of reproductive teaching methods during the training. Data from coaches and athletes also indicated the occasional use of problem-solving teaching methods and almost no use of athlete-initiated teaching methods during training ( Table 3 ).


Table 3 . Coaches’ and their athletes’ reports on the use of reproductive, problem solving, and athlete-initiated teaching methods during the training.

(a). Are there any significant differences between the coaches’ perceived use of reproductive, problem-solving, and athlete-initiated teaching methods during the training?

According to Friedman’s test, there were significant differences in the coaches’ use of reproductive, problem-solving, and athlete-initiated teaching methods during the training, χ 2 (2) = 140.000, p  = 0.001. Post hoc analysis with a Bonferroni correction indicated that the mean rank of perceived use of reproductive, problem-solving, and athlete-initiated teaching methods were 3, 2, and 1, respectively. There were significant differences between the use of reproductive and problem-solving ( Z  = −5.916, p  = 0.001), reproductive and athlete-initiated ( Z  = 11.832, p  = 0.001), and problem-solving and athlete-initiated ( Z  = 5.916, p  = 0.001) teaching methods by coaches. Coaches reported the dominant use of reproductive teaching methods and the rare use of athlete-initiated teaching methods during training ( Figure 1 ).


Figure 1 . Coaches’ and their athletes’ perception on the use of reproductive, problem-solving and athlete-initiated teaching methods during training.

(b). Are there any significant differences in coaches’ use of reproductive, problem-solving, and athlete-initiated teaching methods during the training by the athletes’ perception?

Friedman’s test showed significant differences in coaches’ use of reproduction, problem-solving, and athlete-initiated teaching methods during training, according to the athletes’ perception, χ 2 (2) = 410.870 p  = 0.001. Post hoc analysis with a Bonferroni correction indicated that the mean rank of perceived use of reproductive, problem-solving, and athlete-initiated teaching methods were 2.78, 2.08, and 1.14, respectively. There were significant differences between the use of reproductive and problem-solving ( Z  = 8.433, p  = 0.001), reproductive and athlete-initiated ( Z  = 19.898, p  = 0.001), and problem-solving and athlete-initiated ( Z  = 11.465, p  = 0.001) teaching methods used during training. The athletes reported their coaches’ dominant use of reproductive teaching methods and the rare use of athlete-initiated teaching methods during training ( Figure 1 ).

Rq2. Are there any significant differences between the coaches and the athletes in value given to reproductive, problem-solving and athlete-initiated teaching methods concerning enjoyment, learning and motivation during training?

According to the descriptive data analysis, in terms of enjoyment, learning, and motivation, coaches’ and athletes’ values given to teaching methods from the highest to the least were reproductive, problem-solving, and athlete-initiated teaching methods, respectively ( Table 4 ).


Table 4 . The coaches’ and their athletes’ value perception on the use of reproductive, problem solving, and athlete-initiated teaching methods regarding enjoyment, learning, and motivation during training.

A Mann–Whitney test indicated that athletes valued reproductive teaching methods in terms of learning (Athletes Mdn = 4.2; Coaches Mdn = 4.0), U  = 7760.5, p  = 0.001 and motivation (Athletes Mdn = 4.0; Coaches Mdn = 3.8), U  = 8,230,5 p  = 0.009, problem-solving teaching methods in terms of motivation (Athletes Mdn = 4.0; Coaches Mdn = 3.7), U  = 8640.0, p  = 0.035, and athlete-initiated teaching methods in terms of enjoyment (Athletes Mdn = 3.3; Coaches Mdn = 2.3), U  = 5453.0, p  = 0.001, learning (Athletes Mdn = 3.7; Coaches Mdn = 2.3), U  = 5193.0, p  = 0.001) and motivation (Athletes Mdn = 3.7; Coaches Mdn = 2.3), U  = 5079.5, p  = 0.001, were significantly higher than those given by the coaches. There was no significant change in the value given to the reproductive teaching methods regarding enjoyment, and problem-solving teaching methods regarding enjoyment and learning between the coaches and athletes ( p  > 0.05; Table 4 ).

4. Discussion

This study aimed to examine the coaches’ and their athletes’ perceived use and value given to reproductive, problem-solving, and athlete-initiated teaching methods during training in the competitive youth sport context.

Initial descriptive analysis of the responses of the coaches and their athletes on coaches’ use of the teaching methods indicated that the coaches widely use reproductive teaching methods while occasionally using problem-solving teaching methods. Little or no use of athlete-initiated teaching methods during training was reported. A Friedman’s test with post hoc analysis of the coaches’ and the athletes’ responses revealed significant differences in the use of each teaching method. The athletes perceived the use of reproductive and problem-solving teaching methods as significantly lower than the coaches did during training. While the coaches and the athletes perceive the coaches’ rare use of athlete-initiated teaching methods, the athletes scored higher than the coaches in their use.

This present study’s findings give insight into the coaches’ instructional knowledge and practices reflecting the perspective of their athletes in addition to the coaches’ views. The findings corroborate the previous relevant work and arguments pointing out the coaches’ predominant use of reproductive teaching methods during training ( Cassidy et al., 2008 ; Ince and Kilic, 2016 ; Kilic and Ince, 2017 ). Considering the sport settings examined, the findings imply the coaches’ professional needs in providing instruction aligned to athletes’ higher-order learning needs, specifically regarding using athlete-initiated and problem-solving teaching methods. High dependence on reproductive teaching methods during training, in which various learning situations and accompanying learning needs arise, may create misalignment between the instructional methods used and the athletes’ age and competitive level contingent learning needs. The study findings on the coaches’ pervasive use of reproductive teaching methods can be associated with ‘poor coaching,’ which youth athletes from a variety of backgrounds defined as ‘not providing useful instruction, not aligning their instruction to each of athlete’s unique needs, and not being knowledgeable about the effective use of teaching methods’ ( Gearity, 2012 ). A recent study’s findings on youth athletes’ developmental outcomes in context, which indicates a significant decrease in athletes’ developmental sport outcomes as they age ( Kılıç and İnce, 2021b ), may also partially give hints of ‘poor coaching’ through which youth athletes may have been excessively exposed to reproductive teaching methods regardless of their learning needs.

Coaching effectiveness is linked to coaches’ capacity to apply an array of teaching methods with the awareness of their implications on athletes’ learning ( Cassidy et al., 2008 , p. 40). With the precondition of having an extensive teaching method repertoire, coaches also need to have a basic understanding of the theories supporting the teaching methods and their sets of assumptions about learning when applying them ( Light, 2008 ). While bearing structural similarities with participation context ( Jones and Turner, 2006 ), the competitive sport may become more demanding in solving complex problems such as skill acquisition (e.g., Wikeley and Bullock, 2006 ). Coaches’ use of teaching methods appropriate to athletes’ cognitive, psychological, social, and emotional learning needs ( Fraser-Thomas et al., 2005 ) may be critical for effective athlete learning ( Cassidy et al., 2008 ). Furthermore, applying solely reproductive teaching methods in training when teaching inexperienced athletes would also be flawed as the nature of learning before formal education (sport or schools) occurs through the learner’s active engagement of discovery and problem-solving ( Cassidy et al., 2008 ). Although important in teaching basic skills, reproductive methods are associated with behaviorist learning theory and its heavy use have been criticized for neglecting learners’ freedom, choice, and self-direction ( Nelson and Colquhoun, 2013 ).

The descriptive analysis of coaches’ and their athletes’ responses on the value (enjoyment, learning, and motivation) given to the examined teaching methods revealed that reproductive teaching methods were ranked the highest, followed by the problem-based and athlete-initiated teaching methods. A Mann–Whitney test indicated that the athletes’ value perceptions were significantly higher than that of coaches in (1) reproductive teaching methods regarding learning and motivation; (2) problem-solving teaching methods regarding motivation; and (3) athlete-initiated teaching methods regarding enjoyment, learning, and motivation. A distinct difference between the mean scores of coaches and their athletes was observed regarding the value given to athlete-initiated teaching methods. The athletes valued athlete-initiated teaching methods significantly higher in all value components, while the coaches’ scores were comparably quite low.

Excessive reliance on using reproductive teaching methods and placing a high value on them in the study context echoes the findings of the studies conducted in the physical education context. It may be attributed to the continuation of the traditional culture associated with the sport ( Cassidy et al., 2008 ). As a result, the athletes may also become advocates of the dominant teaching methods and follow this tradition, especially when these methods work well during the early phases of skill learning ( Cassidy et al., 2008 ). The prevailing sport culture may impose the taken-for-granted practices involving predominantly reproductive teaching methods through interaction with other coaches or other mechanisms such as mentoring. These random learning experiences may lead to the perpetuation of existing reproductive teaching methods in coaching practices by no more than passing on ‘tricks of the trade’ ( Cushion et al., 2003 ). On the contrary, teaching methods (A spectrum of teaching styles) were designed to enhance practitioners’ teaching approach by reflecting on their instruction ( Mosston, 1972 ; Cassidy et al., 2008 ). Coaches’ reflection on their teaching experiences using problem-solving and athlete-initiated teaching methods in addition to reproductive teaching methods can help coaches evolve their instruction and, as a result, improve athletes’ holistic developmental sport outcomes ( Potrac and Cassidy, 2006 ; Camiré et al., 2014 ).

While the athletes’ perceptions were found to be generally higher than that of coaches in the value given to the teaching methods examined, importantly, among other teaching methods, the athletes perceived only the athlete-initiated teaching methods as significantly more enjoyable than their coaches did. In athlete development literature, involvement in enjoyable activities is linked to young athletes’ development of intrinsic motivation through which they sustainably participate in sports and develop the resilience needed to overcome future athletic difficulties (e.g., Balyi et al., 2013 , p. 52; Côté et al., 2010 ). According to the self-determination theory, the feeling of control over a person’s actions (autonomy) is one of the primary basic psychological needs for developing intrinsic motivation. It involves the learner’s interest, enjoyment, and inherent satisfaction ( Ryan and Deci, 2017 ). Learner enjoyment increase in the social-contextual conditions that encourages learner autonomy in less structured activities and is critical for enhancing youth sport participation (e.g., Barnett et al., 1992 ; Fraser-Thomas et al., 2005 ).

4.1. Limitations

When interpreting the findings, the limitations of the study need consideration. Firstly, the study data comprised survey responses of coaches and their athletes in the competitive youth sport context. We suggest that future studies examining coaches’ instruction integrate systematic field observations and use qualitative inquiry in addition to the survey responses of coaches and their athletes to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of coaches’ capacity to apply teaching methods. Secondly, the data collection was limited to the two major cities and two little towns of Türkiye. Scanning a wider population from different coaching contexts can be done with the use of survey forms for athletes and coaches. Thirdly, in this study, the focus was on youth sports coaches and their athletes’ use and value perception of teaching methods in training without considering their age and gender subgroups in the study population. Data was collected in the natural training setting from the available population. Further studies should consider the effect of coaches’ and athletes’ age and gender on their use and value of teaching methods.

4.2. Conclusion and recommendations

One of the critical elements of coaching knowledge is pedagogical knowledge ( Trudel et al., 2013 , p. 385). Coaching effectiveness is directly affected by coaches’ capacity to use this knowledge and provide instruction tailored to athletes’ learning needs. Researchers urged a learner-centered pedagogy to athlete development to improve athletes’ higher-order thinking in the physical and psychosocial aspects of sport (e.g., Fraser-Thomas et al., 2005 ; Potrac and Cassidy, 2006 ; Wikeley and Bullock, 2006 ; Cassidy et al., 2008 ). To realize this, coaches should be well-informed about a variety of teaching methods ( Cassidy et al., 2008 ; Pill and SueSee, 2022 ) and, more importantly, their theoretical roots to appropriately apply these methods according to athletes’ different learning needs ( Light, 2008 ; Gearity, 2012 ; Roberts and Potrac, 2014 ). To develop coaches’ instructional capacities in this vein, the teaching methods coaches currently apply during their practices in a definite sport context needs careful consideration. This study provides a detailed examination of the use of and value given to reproductive, problem-solving, and athlete-initiated teaching methods in a competitive youth sport context, drawing on the tenets of the spectrum of teaching styles ( Mosston and Ashworth, 2008 ). The study findings enabled a detailed assessment of the coaches’ pedagogical knowledge and practices from the athletes’ perspectives in addition to their perceptions of their instruction.

The study’s findings strongly indicate the coaches’ professional needs in their pedagogical knowledge, specifically their repertoire of problem-solving and athlete-initiated teaching methods and the capacity to apply them. The athletes rating athlete-initiated teaching methods as significantly more enjoyable, motivating, and instructive, contrary to the coaches, also highlights the high demand for the athlete-centered approach to instruction in the sport context studied from athletes’ part. To improve coaches’ capacity to apply knowledge in the areas the present study findings addressed, community-based learning research has been suggested in the literature ( Gilbert et al., 2009 ; Trudel et al., 2013 ). Such collaborative learning environments designed based on the social theory of learning (communities of practice; Wenger, 1998 ) have been evidenced as effective in providing quality learning environments for coaches (e.g., Culver and Trudel, 2006 ; Stoszkowski and Collins, 2014 ; Duarte et al., 2021 ).

Data availability statement

The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.

Ethics statement

The studies involving human participants were reviewed and approved by Middle East Technical University Human Subject Ethics Committee. Written informed consent to participate in this study was provided by the participants’ legal guardian/next of kin.

Author contributions

All authors listed have made a substantial, direct, and intellectual contribution to the work and approved it for publication.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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Keywords: coaching, teaching methods, reproductive, problem-solving, athlete-initiated

Citation: Kılıç K and Ince ML (2023) Perceived use and value of reproductive, problem-solving, and athlete-initiated teaching by coaches and athletes. Front. Psychol . 14:1167412. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1167412

Received: 16 February 2023; Accepted: 02 May 2023; Published: 24 May 2023.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2023 Kılıç and Ince. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Mustafa Levent Ince, [email protected]

This article is part of the Research Topic

Research on Teaching Strategies and Skills in Different Educational Stages


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    Fishbone Diagram. A fishbone diagram, also known as an Ishikawa diagram or cause and effect diagram, is a tool used to identify the root causes of a problem. It is named after Japanese quality control expert Kaoru Ishikawa, who developed the concept in the 1960s. Organizations across a variety of industries, including manufacturing, healthcare ...

  16. Cause and effect analysis with a fishbone (Ishikawa) diagram

    Imagine you have been tasked with solving a problem: customers are experiencing lag while attempting to check out from their carts. ... It's believed that Ishikawa first presented the fishbone analysis method in 1945, as part of the development of a company-wide quality control process. The creation of quality improvement processes and tools ...

  17. PDF Fishbone Diagramming

    How to Create a Fishbone Diagram 1. Identify the problem statement (head of the fish) (Effect) 2. Classify the main categories (bones of the fish) (Options) 3. Brainstorm the root causes (smaller bones of the fish) (Causes) 4. Vote on the top root causes of the problem 5. Create an action plan to solve the problem at the root Types of Fishbone ...

  18. Fishbone Diagramming

    The fishbone method of analysis helps teams go deep with their problem-solving, uncovering key factors teams can target and troubleshoot. When used effectively, a fishbone diagram can help you 1 : Easily identify and categorize the causes —big and small—of a particular problem in a highly visual way.

  19. How to Use a Fishbone Diagram: 9 Cause and Effect Templates

    Step 1: Identify the Problem. The first step in problem-solving is always identifying the problem, whether you use a fishbone diagram or not. ... Based on the 4S method, this fishbone diagram can help you find the ultimate cause. It comes with a two-tone color combination and icons to make your brainstorming sessions fun and effective.

  20. 5 Whys: How to Uncover Root Causes [Examples]

    Other Problem-Solving Techniques Fishbone Diagram. The Five Whys technique and the Fishbone Diagram both serve as problem-solving methodologies, but they have distinct differences. The Fishbone Diagram, also known as the cause-and-effect diagram, is a visual tool that illustrates the possible causes of a specific problem.

  21. What is a Fishbone Diagram and How to Make One?

    The 8P fishbone. The 8P method is a problem-solving method that classifies possible causes of a problem into eight groups: physical evidence, personnel, place, product (service), price, promotion, process, and productivity/quality. The 8P fishbone is commonly used to solve problems within the service industry, manufacturing, and administrative ...

  22. Making the Fishbone Diagram much better

    WHEN trying to solve a problem, knowledgeable managers and their workers are most likely to use many tools that would facilitate their analysis of the situation. One of these tools is Fishbone Diagram, aka Cause-and-Effect or Ishikawa Diagram named after its inventor — Kaoru Ishikawa (1915-1989), a prominent Japanese quality management ...

  23. A Shape-Newton Method for Free-boundary Problems Subject to The

    Download PDF Abstract: We develop a shape-Newton method for solving generic free-boundary problems where one of the free-boundary conditions is governed by the Bernoulli equation. The Newton-like scheme is developed by employing shape derivatives in the weak forms, which allows us to update the position of the free surface and the potential on the free boundary by solving a boundary-value ...

  24. Frontiers

    In the sports coaching environment, it is recognized that developing athletes' autonomy and problem-solving skills are crucial to support holistic development and ensure optimal performance. However, there needs to be more information on how coaches use and value different teaching methods in training and how athletes perceive and value these methods. This study aimed to examine coaches ...