How to Use a Fishbone Diagram in Problem Solving

Problem-solving is a skill that doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Some people struggle to clear their minds and to see all the potential reasons why something may be happening. Using a diagram to float new ideas on how to fix an issue is a valuable strategy. The fishbone diagram is often used to provide structure and definition to problems and solutions. For this article, we examine how fishbone diagrams are beneficial for solving problems that have others stumped.

Clear the Mind to Allow Inspiration to Follow

Simple problems can be uncomplicated. This makes them ideal to figure them out in your head, know what to do next, and then solve the problem. However, that’s not the case for most business problems. Most are meaty, involve multiple departments in finding a solution, and need time to be understood clearly.

To that end, using a fishbone diagram is a good tactic to clear the mind to allow inspiration to follow. New ideas can be added to the diagram. Then it can be quickly shared with multiple colleagues. When doing so, they’ll see the problem more clearly and can provide their contribution too.

Use a Fishbone Diagram to Encourage Greater Cooperation

Many times, getting active input from multiple people leads to the right conclusion. However, getting to this point is not always done with ease. When different departmental managers don’t like each other or are barely on speaking terms, cooperation is far from assured. In such circumstances, sharing either an empty or partly completed diagram digitally allows each party to add their contribution separate from the other. While using diagrams for problem-solving won’t resolve interpersonal issues, it still allows the business to solve business difficulties despite them.

Rank Causes in Order of Likelihood

A fishbone diagram can go beyond simply stating the likely causes. The diagram can be ordered to show the likeliest causes either the furthest to the front or the first sub-branch closest to the spine. This can allow the manager to assign staff to focus their attention on those causes first. This method can shorten the time it takes to confirm the true cause. From there, various solutions can be arrived at, explored and tried to fix the problem once and for all.

While managers will not always be correct when ranking likely causes to a business problem, it saves time when they are. When they’re incorrect, it doesn’t cost more time versus randomly investigating suspected causes from a list of them. As such, there’s little to lose by using prioritized ranking via a fishbone diagram.

Eliminate the Obvious Causes or Solutions

If contributors are stuck when brainstorming potential causes or possible solutions, it’s necessary to try a different methodology.

Listing out causes on a piece of paper may be helpful initially but using a fishbone diagram allows everyone involved to see what’s being worked on. Using a large digital display in a meeting room or a shared screen between distant participants to show a diagram sparks originality in thought.

Indeed, two diagrams can be used side-by-side. The first can contain all the causes for the problem or solutions to it that have been ruled out already. The second is ready to be filled with out-of-the-box ideas that might work when the obvious ones have already been dismissed. With this approach, it may lead to some surprising suggestions to be actively followed up.

Dig Deeper into Effect Analysis

Various causes can produce the same effect. Alternatively, one cause can result in multiple, unwanted effects. In either situation, it requires digging deeper into effect analysis to figure out what should come next.

A fishbone diagram can let participants delve into the various effects being created by their respective causes. From there, they can consider how best to address the issue for the best outcome. This is also a beneficial direction to take when the effects are known and obvious, but the causes are as yet unknown. This allows participants to effectively work backward, and forwards, through the problem to find the answers they seek.

While this may take longer, when most of the effects are known but less is known about likely causes, it could be the only way through the problem.

Using fishbone diagrams isn’t something that promotes a single approach and just one solution. It can be used in a variety of ways all with the shared goal of solving the current problem. While it likely isn’t the only tool in the toolbox of a business, it’s powerful enough that its use shouldn’t be underestimated.