Remember Fish Bone Diagrams for problem solving? I still think they are useful for framing a problem. Useful for educators and students!

What is a fish bone diagram?

“Ishikawa” or a fish bone diagram can be a useful tool for helping you map a problem and take into account a range of possible causes. Each “bone” represents a possible element of the problem, e.g. people, equipment, materials and methods (or you may add other elements relevant to your own situation such as policy or environment).

The value of using a fish bone diagram is that it encourages us to look at each element in isolation and in combination with other elements. Most often, a problem can have one or more causes. Fish bone diagrams can discourage us from jumping to the apparently “obvious” solution. Potential causes are simply listed on each “bone”. If you wish you can list causes on one side of the bone and solutions on the other.

How to develop the diagram

  • Draw the fish with its bones
  • Name the problem or effect
  • Write this succinctly at the ‘head’ of the fish
  • Decide on what type of cause each bone represents, eg people, machines, materials, methods
  • List possible causes on each of the bones
  • Select which causes you will address
  • Generate solutions for each of the causes


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Fish image made by Freepik from