Fishbone Diagram

(Ishakawa Diagram or Cause & Effect Diagram)


The Fishbone Diagram was originally created by Kaoru Ishakawa to find process imperfections (Ishakawa, 1985). The first company to adopt the diagram in all of its processes was Kawasaki Iron Fukiai Works in 1952. In 1962 Dr. Juran honored Ishakawa by naming the tool after him and is now also known as the Ishakawa Diagram. Its shape has earned the nickname of the Fishbone Diagram. This is one of the most commonly used tools of continuous improvement programs.

In a DMAIC Six Sigma project this diagram is used in the MEASURE phase. It initiates the collection of the all root causes, x’s, or inputs that contribute to the problem, also referred to as the effect or "Y". Often this beginning phase of subjective root cause analysis runs concurrently with the Measurement Systems Analysis (MSA).


To begin the process of finding and documenting the inputs to the problem from the obvious to the hidden causes. Some will be subjective and generated from brainstorming discussions and some will be shown by data, facts, and charts such as Pareto Diagrams. The linkage of the Fishbone Diagram to other tools is shown below.

Showing the linkage of Fishbone Diagrams

This identification of these inputs requires a well represented and engaged team, this is where the substance of the work begins to improve the process, product, or service.

The name Fishbone Diagram comes from the configuration of the diagram. The project problem or gap, "Y", as the head of the fish and the bones are the primary cause categories.

Categorizing the major causes helps the team focus their thoughts around one major input area at a time to identify root causes.

Some inputs have their own causes and these become “bones” branching off the larger bones, and this may go on two or three levels. Eventually, the root causes should be the smallest bones on the skeleton. The appearance of the diagram isn't as important as capturing all the inputs. The categories normally found in a manufacturing environment are:

1) Measurement – root causes from measurement devices

2) Manpower – root causes from people involved directly or indirectly

3) Machine – root causes from machine(s) involved.

4) Method – root causes from the procedure used or done

5) Material – root causes from direct or indirect materials used

6) Environment – root causes from surroundings

Fishbone Diagram, Ishakawa Diagram, Cause-Effect Diagram

The idea is to have the team concentrate on one major category at a time instead trying to brainstorm all the sources of variation and contributors at one time.

For example, start the exercise with them in the category of MACHINE and determine the input(s) that are related to MACHINE(S) that contribute to the variation in the OUTPUT (Y).

To help the team with the root cause determination the 5-WHY format can be applied.

Fishbone Diagram - Manufacturing

It is not so important under which category each input is listed as long as it is identified and put on the list for further analysis. Do not get caught up on which category to list an input under when it is debatable, it is more important that the input has been captured.

After all of the inputs are listed, each one should be identified as either:

  • N – noise, not controllable by the team (such as outdoor humidity)
  • C – controllable input (such as processing temperature)

At the end of this exercise, all inputs, x’s, should be identified and labeled as "C" or "N".

A Fishbone Diagram should be done for each major process step and other project y's.


A project may have a goal to improve the scrap rate and customer satisfaction rate. In this case many inputs occur to both "Y's but there will be many inputs that must be identified that will only apply to one or another.

Many process steps may share the same inputs (x's) but the Fishbone Diagram is done individually for each step and for each category to help capture ALL inputs before proceeding.

It is not important to weigh these inputs at this time, more importantly get all inputs documented and keep opinions and judgments from interfering.

The next tool called a cause & effect matrix (or Correlation matrix and also called a Prioritization Matrix) will start the screening process (aka the funneling process) to filter out the trivial inputs.

The “N” (noise inputs) should be removed from further consideration, but ensure they are truly uncontrollable or not practical to control.

Creating a Fishbone Diagram with Minitab

This is a screenshot showing the path to create your diagram using Minitab. Simply enter the inputs under the categories (causes) and a diagram is automatically generated. It allows you to change the labels, add titles, and resizes your diagram if inputs are added or removed as iterations are done.

Creating a Cause & Effect Diagram

Video of a Fishbone Diagram

Didn't find what you were looking for?
Try the Six Sigma Material search engine

The search engine below can be used to locate various topics of interest and other Six Sigma material on this site.

Custom Search

Proceed to next step of screening process: CORRELATION MATRIX

Return to the MEASURE phase

Templates and Calculators

Return to Six-Sigma-Material Home Page

Ishakawa, K. (1985). What Is Total Quality Control? The Japanese Way. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc. (original was published by JUSE Press, this is the English translated edition by Lu, David. J.)

Custom Search

Site Membership

Six Sigma

Templates, Tables & Calculators

Six Sigma Certification

Six Sigma Black Belt Certification

Six Sigma Modules


Green Belt Program (1,000+ Slides)

Basic Statistics


Process Mapping

Capability Studies


Cause & Effect Matrix


Multivariate Analysis

Central Limit Theorem

Confidence Intervals

Hypothesis Testing

T Tests

1-Way Anova Test

Chi-Square Test

Correlation and Regression

Control Plan


Error Proofing

Statistics in Excel

Need a Gantt Chart?

Click here to get this template