A Guide to Using Fishbone Diagrams

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With any task, it’s important to use the right tool for the job. A hammer and a screw don’t go together well. Similarly, when you use diagrams, you will need to choose wisely when applying them to each situation. For instance, a fishbone diagram is excellent to work through difficulties finding workable solutions, but it is less effective as a list of actions to take. To better understand the ins and outs of fishbone diagrams, here is our quick guide to using them. 

Know Why You Wish to Use One

As we mentioned at the top of the article, diagrams should be selected based on the purpose. Fishbone diagrams are best utilized to problem solve, look into business processes that have troubles, or to determine the cause of a difficulty. With that said, they can also be used for a basic organizational chart when there are only the department heads and a series of subordinates below them who are all at the same level. Yet, when a team expands to include team leaders or supervisors, then perhaps another type of chart would be a better solution. Therefore, use the fishbone diagram appropriately rather than as your diagram of choice. 

Keep It Simple

As the KISS principle indicates, keeping it simple is beneficial even in business circles. This is because while problems may indeed be highly complex, it pays to keep diagram presentations as basic as possible. What you’re looking for is clarity and conciseness, not busy-looking diagrams stuffed full of overly wordy information. Keep it clear, but also with enough information to convey what’s required. Find the right balance. 

Use Digital Tools, Not Hand Drawn Diagrams

Even if you’re ‘old school,’ avoid using hand-drawn diagrams or inferior solutions that make the fishbone diagram difficult to share amongst colleagues. Even if you’re only using it for yourself initially, other colleagues or even the CEO may ask to see or contribute to it later. Anticipate this need.

Use digital solutions for diagrams, including fishbone diagrams, wherever possible. They allow for quick access to a blank diagram, filling in the information rapidly, and to share it online. Colleagues using the same solution can be provided access to the diagram to give their input. 

Online tools make collaboration easier. Some permit multiple people to access the same fishbone diagram to add new ribs, or sub-branches featuring their contribution. This saves emails flying back and forth that eat up time when quick updates were all that was required. 

Brainstorm with the Diagram Open

If you’re used to brainstorming in your head, and worrying about getting the thoughts down later, change this.

Instead, open the fishbone diagram ready to add new ribs and/or sub-branches quickly as the thoughts come to you. This is important because inspiration arrives in fits and starts, or all at once! Therefore, it’s necessary to access the right productivity tools to avoid losing these ideas when they happen. 

While certain business problems might not seem relevant throughout the day, the subconscious mind will work on them anyway. This is why ideas come to us randomly when we’re shopping in the superstore, etc. Also, when you are away from the PC, add notes however you can, and augment the diagram as soon as possible. 

Try Using a Fishbone Diagram in Different Situations

While traditionally this type of diagram has been used to work on manufacturing difficulties, and production bottlenecks, that’s not its only purpose. 

The diagram was originally devised to be widely used for a broad spectrum of business problems. These were not exclusive to manufacturing or certain types of businesses either. Therefore, don’t fall into the trap of seeing fishbone diagrams as being quite limited in their uses. You’ll be surprised when and where they can be useful to you.

Get All Team Members Up to Speed

Not everyone is comfortable or has experience with fishbone diagrams. They may be far more familiar with flowcharts or other types if they have a particular background.

Don’t count this against them. Get them up to speed by explaining how they’re used in the business and why they’re beneficial. Showing several examples of different completed fishbone diagrams that the business has previously created for solved problems can provide clarity when they’re staring at a blank page or screen unsure what to add to a new diagram. 

Fishbone diagrams should be seen as essential. Include it within a selection of practical diagrams that all managers can rely upon. This way, it avoids their getting bogged down in business problems with no solution in sight. 

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