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2.5 Fishbone diagram

There are times when management problems seem too complicated and ‘messy’ to analyse. A technique, the fishbone diagram, can be used by both individuals and groups to help to clarify the causes of a difficult problem and capture its complexity. The diagram will help provide a comprehensive and balanced picture and show the relative importance and interrelationships between different parts of the problem.

Box 3: Developing a fishbone diagram

  1. On a wide sheet of paper, draw a long arrow horizontally across the middle of the page pointing to the right, and label the arrowhead with the title of the issue to be explained. This is the backbone of the fish.

  2. Draw spurs coming off the backbone at about 45 degrees, one for every likely cause of the problem; label each at its outer end. Add sub-spurs to represent subsidiary causes. Highlight any causes that appear more than once – they may be significant.

  3. Consider each spur and sub-spur, taking the simplest first, partly for clarity but also because a good, simple explanation may make more complex explanations unnecessary.

  4. Circle anything that seems to be a key cause so that you can concentrate on it later. Finally, redraw the fishbone diagram so that the relative importance of the different parts of the problem is reflected by its position along the backbone. Draw the most important at the head end.

Figure 14 shows the possible causes of failure to meet project deadlines.

Figure 14
Figure 14: Failure to meet project deadlines – a fishbone diagram

We can see there are four main causes. These are the lack of teamwork, project management, information technology and planning. Each of these has been developed to show greater detail.

It is often helpful to develop the fishbone diagram with a group, as the analysis and consensus may provide a basis for group action and learning.

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