Problem-Solving With a Fishbone Diagram: How Using a Fishbone Diagram Template Drives Collaboration to Find the Root of a Problem

Problem-Solving With a Fishbone Diagram: How Using a Fishbone Diagram Template Drives Collaboration to Find the Root of a Problem

When problems arise, Agile teams need to address them efficiently to keep projects on track. The fishbone diagram template is designed to do just that. By collaborating on a fishbone diagram, team members benefit from communicating about and visualizing potential causes. The diagram makes it easier to get to the root of the problem, identify the solution, and take action.

Whiteboards include a free Fishbone Diagram Template so your team can take advantage of this powerful problem-solving tool. Our infinite-plane virtual whiteboard serves all of your brainstorming, planning, and project visualization needs. A library of helpful templates facilitates everything from ideation to story mapping to retrospective ideas for remote teams, and our powerful two-way Jira integration merges tasks and actions. Visualize tasks and dependencies, reprioritize, or even create new tasks, issues, and relationships right in Whiteboards. That means you can use our Fishbone Diagram Template to swiftly identify the root cause of your problem and simultaneously generate Jira issues and tasks within the diagram.

Get more from meetings and brainstorming sessions with Whiteboards, and keep reading to learn more about how your team can solve problems with a fishbone diagram.

What is a fishbone diagram?

The fishbone diagram, also known as the Ishikawa diagram, dates back to the 1920s. Kaoru Ishikawa made it famous in the 1960s during his quality management work for Kawasaki. Predating Agile methodology and the internet itself, the fishbone diagram is now an industry standard diagnostic tool. The template resembles a fish skeleton: the fish’s head represents the main problem to be solved, while the bones branching off the fish’s spine represent potential causes. 

The simplicity and versatility of virtual fishbone templates make them one of the most popular tools for efficient online collaborative troubleshooting within Agile teams.

Why use an Ishikawa diagram template (a.k.a. fishbone diagram)?

Organizations use fishbone diagrams proactively to scrutinize a new design or process for weak points in advance of execution, or responsively to address an unforeseen problem in real time, for more efficient resolution.

Think of the fishbone diagram as a methodical yet flexible response to an identified health problem in the organization. The fishbone diagram session itself does not diagnose the problem. Instead, the template visually organizes a brainstorming session that flows directly into a planning session. The meeting ends with the launch of a strategic plan to explore the most likely problem avenues as pinpointed by the diagram.

If a patient presents with sudden sharp stomach pain, their doctor will consider many possibilities. Is it food poisoning? a viral infection? an ulcer? Is the solution a change in lifestyle? surgery? medication? To treat the underlying problem and not merely the symptoms, the doctor pursues a systematic line of questioning to narrow down the possibilities. Only after this do they run diagnostic tests based on the remaining probable causes.

If the patient in this analogy is the organization, the whiteboard is the doctor’s office and the agile team are specialists gathered to weigh in and diagram possible causes. 

How does a fishbone diagram maker support agile workflows?

Collaboration is key to diagnosing the actual problem, and fishbone diagram templates structure that collaboration. Team members may offer different reasons for an identified problem based on their individual expertise. Real-time online collaboration allows stakeholders to collect and sift these proposals quickly, but this process often needs a container so the conversation doesn’t get ahead of itself. 

The fishbone diagram focuses on brainstorming by collecting suggested Main Causes and Root Causes along the bones of the fish and keeping these attached to the spine that leads back to the Main Problem at the head of the fish. Ishikawa diagrams streamline and build guardrails around group troubleshooting, allowing many heads to come together, build a map, and leave the session with concrete steps forward. fishbone diagram
Fishbone Diagram template

How do teams use fishbone diagram templates to solve a problem?

This fishbone diagram example walks you through 4 steps to using fishbone templates. Each question below structures that phase of the conversation.

1. What is the main problem?

Make the presenting problem the head of the fishbone diagram.

Fishbone Diagram template with the Main Problem field's description
Fishbone Diagram template with the Main Problem field’s description

Step one is to establish the problem the meeting will address. It begins with the Fishbone Diagram Template on the whiteboard and ends with the facilitator adding a short description of the problem at hand to the Main Problem field of the diagram.

In our example, a software company is receiving the projected number of downloads of their free basic program, above the target number of upgrades to the mid-level Pro version, but lower than desired levels of upgrades to the top tier Gold option. The Main Problem field in the diagram reads, “Under quarterly projection for Gold.”

The meeting and the diagram exist to address the basic question, “Why might this be?”

2. What are possible causes?

Brainstorm the bones of the fishbone diagram.

Fishbone Diagram template with empty sticky notes around it
Fishbone Diagram template with empty sticky notes around it

In step two, the whiteboard outside the fishbone diagram fills with virtual sticky notes as people brainstorm causes. Step two ends when the team runs out of ideas and is ready to begin organizing the ones they’ve identified.

At this stage, our example team wants to find the larger issues that may point to a more specific problem and its corresponding solutions. Different knowledge workers envision different problems and may jump immediately to solutions, getting ahead of the bigger picture.

For example, one team member feels the Gold option as it exists is a good value. They initially suggest offering a two-month free trial for Pro users, guessing that a substantial number will then choose to transition to the upgraded subscription. But this solution will only work if users have the motivation to try the Gold package and explore its additional features. The team discusses the idea further to stay on track with Step Two and isolate a potential cause: perhaps they are poorly communicating the value of the Gold option. This idea goes on a virtual sticky note next to the fishbone diagram.

A second team member, riffing off the idea that customers don’t understand the value of Gold, thinks about the fact that there was an over-projection of Pro users in the past year. They suggest that the Pro option may be too generous, cannibalizing the earning potential of the Gold option. The team adds this new possibility to a second sticky note. They now have two distinct causes: a marketing issue and a product structuring issue.

This leads a third person to point out that a direct competitor’s equivalent top-tier selection offers more robust features. Still focusing on causes, not solutions, they wonder if current customers who only require Pro-grade functionality are happy with the product as is. Perhaps those requiring expanded capabilities are drifting off to competitors. This could also mean that prospective customers at the top-tier needs level are simply choosing competing products instead.

Taking these points into account, the team decides to create two new “cause” sticky notes, placed close together on the whiteboard because of their likely overlap: lack of features leading to customer drift and lack of features reducing market penetration.

3. What are the main causes and root causes? 

Put meat on the bones of the fishbone diagram.

Fishbone Diagram template with main and root causes added
Fishbone Diagram template with main and root causes added

Step three is to move causes from sticky notes to the Ishikawa diagram template, sorting main causes and root causes as they go. This step ends when all sticky notes have been accounted for and the team is happy with the positioning of the causes on the fishbone diagram. 

Avoiding lengthy side conversations and unproductive solutions, only causes are diagrammed into the fishbone template. Our example team reviews the sticky notes from step two and adds several distinct but potentially overlapping problems into the Main Cause text fields of the fishbone diagram:

  1. Users are unaware of the value Gold offers them (marketing issue)
  2. Equivalent competitor product offers better value (features issue)
  3. Pro over-delivers, cannibalizing Gold (product structuring issue)

They diagram the problems of customer drift and market penetration as Root Causes under (2). 

The fishbone diagram session is flexible. The group works through the sticky notes to insert causes into the diagram and may rearrange and add to them as the conversation continues.

Focusing on Main Cause 1 in the fishbone diagram, they ask, why might current clients be unaware of how the Gold selection would improve their experience? Maybe the features aren’t easy for users to understand from the website’s comparison chart. Maybe current direct marketing efforts aren’t highlighting the best features effectively. These suggestions and others become Root Causes under Main Cause 1 on the diagram.

Once the team exhausts any additional brainstorming and establishes the hierarchies of main and root causes in the fishbone diagram, it’s time to make a plan.

4. How do we find the actual root of the problem? 

Treat the completed diagram as a strategy map and plan next steps.

Fishbone Diagram template with sticky notes turned into actionable Jira items
Fishbone Diagram template with sticky notes turned into actionable Jira items

Step four is the planning stage. With the diagramming complete, the team forms a strategy and chooses a second diagramming tool such as the Action Plan Template or the Card Table tool to create action items on the whiteboard. Step four ends when all action items are converted into tasks and assigned to relevant users.

Our example team uses the completed Fishbone Diagram Template from step three to create a multi-channeled plan to pinpoint the actual problem. While any fishbone diagram template can get users to this point, step 4 is where Whiteboards’ unique two-way integration with Jira shines.

Beyond providing a visual space to use fishbone diagrams and other templates, Whiteboards empowers that space to exchange information with Jira seamlessly. Team members immediately:

  • receive individual assignments by email and in Jira
  • have access to diagrams and notes that produced those assignments
  • see in-meeting updates to existing user stories appear directly in Jira
  • understand how their individual tasks fit into the overall strategy

The collaborators in our fishbone diagram example meeting agree the marketing team will do research and testing around identified theories of customer attraction, retention, and upgrades. They build out individual user stories from the bones of the fishbone diagram, mark up tasks on sticky notes, then convert these notes to issue cards, which sync instantaneously with Jira. Absent Jira users see the new user stories and receive their assigned next steps in Jira, automatically exported from Whiteboards, and view the populated fishbone diagram and the meeting’s entire visual plan at their convenience.

Two-way integration means the project is launched on all fronts by the time the meeting ends.

How do Jira users benefit from using the fishbone template in Whiteboards?

While any team can enjoy the benefits of brainstorming, planning, retrospectives, and more through virtual collaboration in Whiteboards’ stand-alone app, one unparalleled benefit of the fishbone diagram and all Whiteboards tools is their role in a larger dialogue with Jira. Whiteboards’ users pull, update, and create Jira issues right in Whiteboards, and those updates and all new assignments appear instantly in Jira. Likewise, any updates in Jira appear automatically on the whiteboard.

From a user perspective, Jira and Whiteboards work together as one collaborative environment. 

Use the Whiteboards-Jira integration during meetings and ceremonies to:

  • import existing Jira issues into Whiteboards
  • modify Jira links by visually connecting issue cards by dependency
  • convert virtual sticky notes into new issue cards that appear in Jira
  • create tasks that show up instantly in Jira
  • automate and batch edit Jira issues using update zones
  • receive instant updates to relevant whiteboard items directly from Jira 

Two-way communication eliminates redundancies like post-meeting screenshots, PDFs, emails, and Jira-side manual updates, minimizing busywork and reducing miscommunications. This works the same whether you use the Whiteboards stand-alone app or the Jira plug-in.

Start using fishbone diagrams and other templates for free with Whiteboards

The fishbone or Ishikawa diagram has a 100-year track record, proving itself again and again as an effective way to get to the root of a problem. By collaborating using a fishbone diagram, agile teams share ideas and visualize them to better understand what’s really going on and what to do about it. When leveraging the diagram using an online whiteboard, remote and distributed teams get to take advantage of this powerful problem-solving technique as well.

Whiteboards make using a fishbone diagram even more efficient by empowering agile teams to turn takeaways directly into Jira issues and tasks. All Jira users with proper permissions access the results, while individuals receive any tasks in real time. 

By signing up for a free Whiteboards account, you can get started with our fishbone diagram maker. In minutes, you’ll have access to not only fishbone diagrams but a vast library of useful whiteboard templates and visual planning tools. Take advantage of these free starters, or design and edit your own diagrams and save them as templates. Everything you do can synchronize with Jira to streamline accuracy in communication and reduce your team’s workload. 

This 7-minute Whiteboards demo introduces the visual board and shows how Jira integration streamlines planning, estimation, user story mapping, voting sessions, retros, and more.