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Fishbone Diagram: How it is Helpful in Project Management?

Updated on April 3, 2013
Fishbone Diagram
Fishbone Diagram | Source

Fishbone diagram, a brainchild of Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa, is an analysis tool that provides a systematic way to look at the potential factors causing a particular effect. It’s quite difficult to resolve complicated problems without considering the cause-and-effect relationship between involved factors. It is referred to as ‘Fishbone diagram’ because the diagram resembles the skeleton of a fish.

To facilitate easy identification of the key relationship among various variables, Ishikawa grouped all the causes into two major categories: the 6Ms (for manufacturing industry) and the 4Ps (for service industry).

The 6Ms

  • Manpower
  • Machines
  • Methods
  • Measurements
  • Materials
  • Management/Money power

The 4Ps

  • Policies
  • Price
  • People
  • Quality

When to Use Fishbone Diagram

You can apply Fishbone diagram in the following situations:

  1. If the traditional ways of approaching the problem seem time consuming.
  2. When the problem is too complicated for the team to identify the root cause.
  3. When there are many potential causes of the problem.

However, the team members are free to modify these categories depending upon their subject matter and project.

How to Construct a Fishbone Diagram

You can follow these steps to solve your problem using fishbone diagram:

1- State the Problem

It’s the simplest step. Note down the problem your team is facing in detail. Identify when and where it occurs and who are involved. After identifying the problem, take a sheet of paper, write down the problem in a square box on the right hand side of the page. Draw a straight line horizontally from the left side of the paper to problem box. Now this arrangement appears like fish head and spine.

2- Figure out All the Possible Factors Involved

Many people find it difficult to structure the complex though process around a problem. Discuss with your teammates and use the available tools such as flow charts and affinity charts to find out as many possible factors as you can. You can categorize the factors into 6Ms, 4Ps, or some other type based on the nature of problem under study.

In fishbone analogy, for each category draw a slanted line with the arrow pointing towards the backbone.

3- Brainstorm and Identify the Root Cause

When brainstorming, strive to identify the major causes (categories) then discuss the secondary factors within these categories to analyze their relevance with the problem. This way the team can concentrate on one major cause at a time and look further into sub-causes if necessary.

All the major causes (categories) are drawn as fishbones and the secondary causes as bonelets in the diagram. Your team now has a comprehensive list of potential causes. By discussion and use of analytical tools the team members can decide what is the root cause and take appropriate action.

Role of Fishbone Diagram in Project Management

Fishbone diagrams primarily show the root causes of an event, e.g. quality failures. Therefore they are of vital importance in project management through project quality plan, fault detection, and task management.

The proactive project managers apply fishbone diagrams for early planning, especially when gathering factors, and to identify hidden factors that can play significant role in the project. It is also used in mapping the operation, business process modeling and business process improvement.

Tips to Successfully Build a Fishbone Diagram

  1. Make sure that all the team members agree on the problem statement prior to beginning.
  2. Consider all the possible factors for casualty and label them properly.
  3. Split the overcrowded categories.
  4. Merge the empty branches with others.
  5. Study the root causes that are most likely to merit deeper investigation.


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      Zaki 6 years ago

      Nice work..