In any organization, problems are as frequent and unwanted as solicitation phone calls and junk email. Often employees avoid solutions that merely address the symptoms of a much larger problem. Organizations often respond to problems with short-term solutions. However, constantly relying on quick fixes requires staff to repeat the same tasks over and over again, all the while maintaining the status quo. Focusing on short- term solutions is not a recipe for organizational growth.

When people spend a lot of time putting out fires in the workplace, there is an illusion; lots of busy people completing lots of tasks. After the tasks are completed, the problems still remain.  It’s easy to confuse the actual problem with its and presumed causes. This can lead to treating the symptoms without addressing the cause, or misidentifying the cause altogether and thereby applying ineffective countermeasures. If you start in the wrong place, you will never reach your destination – a sustainable diagnosis and solution to your root issue.  Effective problem solving must focus on the one true problem. There may be multiple causes and symptoms, and multiple people focusing on each, but until you have identified a single isolated true problem, you cannot begin to solve it.

What if I told you that I had a tool to sort out the root of the problem and move towards solutions? Let me introduce you to Ishikawa’s Cause and Effect Fishbone Diagram below:



A fishbone diagram is useful in brainstorming sessions to focus thought and conversation. After the group has brainstormed all the possible causes for a problem, the facilitator helps the group to rate the potential causes according to their level of importance and diagram a hierarchy. The design of the diagram looks much like a skeleton of a fish. Fishbone diagrams are typically worked right to left, with each large “bone” of the fish branching out to include smaller bones containing more detail.

 How to create a fish diagram:

  • Create a head, which lists the problem or issue to be studied.
  • Create a backbone for the fish (straight line which leads to the head).
  • Identify at least four causes that contribute to the problem. Connect these four causes with arrows to the spine. These will create the first bones of the fish.
  • Brainstorm around each “cause” to document those things that contributed to the cause. Use the questioning process such as the 4P’s (Policies, Procedures, People and Plant) to keep the conversation focused.
  • Continue breaking down each cause until the root causes have been identified.

In my office, we have used the fishbone diagram many times to work out different issues and it has saved us from further disagreements because we were able to identify the root of the problem.  I found an article that really breaks down the steps and processes that go into the fishbone diagram and the entire concept, you can find the link below.