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6 Reasons to Use a Fishbone Diagram

The fishbone diagram might not be the most well-known out there, but it’s frequently called upon when trying to get to the bottom of a problem. This is especially the case when it’s a complicated one to review and one with multiple potential solutions. 

To avoid creating a detailed diagram from scratch, it’s best to start with a fishbone diagram template. This can then be edited, expanded, and modified to suit your purposes or those of the company. This can be a real timesaver if you are regularly called upon to act as a troubleshooter with unusual problems arising. 

If you’re unconvinced or too unfamiliar with these types of diagrams as yet, then here are 6 reasons to use one to make life easier. 

1. Visualizing the Problem Works Better in Some Situations

While some of us are visual people, others prefer the written word. However, almost everyone finds that a visual interpretation can help to better appreciate a sticky problem. 

Looking at a structured diagram jutting off in different directions provides multiple ways to troubleshoot and explore ways to fix things. This is unlike some other flowcharts that might not offer this kind of flexibility. As such, the fishbone diagram is typically the first port of call when new issues come up. 

The more complicated the problem, the more potential benefits can come from seeing it, rather than reading or hearing about it. 

2. Spark of an Idea

Seeing a fishbone diagram with multiple lines pushing out from the center encourages brainstorming ideas about possible solutions. 

When needing to think outside the box because the contemporary or typical ideas have already been tried and found to not work, then getting your thinking cap on becomes necessary. 

A blank sheet of lined paper doesn’t stimulate your synapsis. But a familiar troubleshooting diagram may well do that for you. Especially once you get used to using it, it helps to get the thoughts and ideas flowing about possible causes. 

3. From Complaint to Root Cause

Many times, a complaint comes in about a situation, a software tool, or something else. 

From listening to the complaint, it becomes difficult to appreciate what the root cause is that’s resulted in their objection to it and their complaint about it. 

It’s necessary to ask leading questions to get a clearer understanding about what caused it, as opposed to why it happened or how they feel about it. 

Using a diagram that focused expressly on the cause-and-effect aspect of their difficulty leads to better solutions. It deals in facts, not feelings, which while the latter are important, do not get anyone any closer to a workable solution. 

Whilst it’s also important to find a solution to the immediate issue that the person has, from a business perspective on a potentially repetitive issue, appreciating the true cause(s) helps to devise strategies to avoid it happening again. 

As someone tasked with solving problems, learn to tune out the reasons why a problem occurred or how inconvenient it has become. These are only a distraction. Instead, use tools to focus on what solutions(s) are best. 

4. Allows for Multiple Causes to Be Analyzed

A principle benefit of the fishbone approach is that multiple triggering causes can be shown within a single diagram, rather than just one cause. 

Whilst there may be a tendency to think that a single problem had just one cause, that’s not always the case. 

For instance, should a company wish to consider why they have seen declining sales over the last year, they could use a fishbone diagram to explore all the reasons why. These might include external reasons, product packaging/labeling concerns, marketing aspects, poor customer service ratings, and so on.

Whilst some of these causes may be more influential than others, progress can be made across all of them with sufficient effort to stop the sales decline. 

5. Focus on Several Priorities

A new business can have several priorities that it’s pursuing. Sometimes because they see the many opportunities and other times, due to wanting to see which avenue will be the most successful. 

When doing so, they can later double-down on the most successful one placing working capital where it’ll do the best and underfunding or ceasing efforts that proved less fruitful. 

While there are other diagrammatic approaches to this goal, the visual representation is useful for teams where they can focus on one bone sticking out to address all the issues listed. This avoids burning out by trying to do too much. 

6. Use As a Relationship Chart

A fishbone diagram can also be used as a basic relationship chart, instead of a typical top-down organizational chart. 

The advantage of this over another charting approach is that it’s possible to quickly identify the department heads and the people they work with. It’s an uncomplicated way to do so, which probably works best with smaller departments or teams.

Using a fishbone diagram can be beneficial particularly when exploring many causes or contributing factors and attempting to have this lead to solutions. However, other uses can work well too.