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How to Draw a Fishbone Diagram

Fishbone Diagrams
Fishbone diagrams are also called cause-and-effect diagrams or Ishikawa diagrams after their creator, Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa. Fishbone diagrams show the causes of an event. They are often used in business to determine the cause of some problem. The item on the far right doesn't have to be a problem and can be a desired effect.
Fishbone Diagram
Free Trial
Drawing a fishbone diagram with RFFlow is very easy. First run RFFlow. If you don't have it, download the free trial version of RFFlow from this Web site.
Basic Flowcharting Stencil
The easiest way to draw a fishbone diagram is to edit an existing one, or edit a template. These are found at RFFlow Fishbone Diagram Samples. Here, we will be drawing a fishbone diagram from scratch. In RFFlow click the More Shapes The More Shapes Button button. It is on the left above the stencils. The Stencils and Shapes dialog box will appear. Scroll and click on Cause-Effect (Fishbone) stencil and then the Add Stencil button.
Cause-Effect Diagram
The Problem
As an example, we will use the simple problem of "Long Lines at Coffee Shop." This problem is also called the effect. It is placed on the right side of the chart.

Click on the Effect shape Effect Shape and type in the text. Then click the OK button and drag the shape to the right of the paper. If you zoom out, you can see double gray lines. The outer gray line is the edge of the paper. You may want to click on the Orientation button Orientation Button to choose landscape, as most fishbone diagrams are wider than they are tall.
Sample Flowchart
Next we draw the backbone of the fishbone chart, which is a large arrow pointing right toward the problem. Drag the Backbone arrow Backbone Arrowfrom the stencil on to your chart. You want it to point to the right. To move a line, drag it at the center of the line. To change the length of a line, click on it and drag the green handles. Editing the Backbone ArrowYour diagram should now look something like this:
Backbone Diagram
Primary Causes
Next, you think of all possible causes for the problem. This is the most important part of the process. You must determine all possible causes. Causes should be measurable and controllable. Consult with everyone who works in the area and may have ideas as to the possible causes. In our example, possible causes are:
These are called primary causes. First you draw some diagonal lines pointing toward the backbone. You can drag the Diagonal Linediagonal line shape from the stencil into your chart. Then drag the center of the line to move it or drag the handles to change it's length. If the green handles aren't showing on a line, you click on it and the handles will appear. Normally you would just take a sample chart from our Web site and modify it to meet your needs. But since this is a tutorial, we are having you draw the lines yourself. There are several sample fishbone diagrams at www.rff.com/fishbone-diagram-samples.php.
Fishbone Diagram
To add the text to a line, double-click on the line and type in the text. Then press the ENTER key to move it above the line. After doing this, the chart looks like:
Fishbone Diagram
Secondary Causes
Our fishbone diagram doesn't show any secondary causes. A secondary cause is drawn with a line connecting to the primary cause. For example, if the cappuccino machines have been on order, but have not been delivered because of long lead times, the diagram would show a secondary cause of "Long lead times on new machines." Some fishbone diagrams place the text on the lines. You can do this, but it is easier to read if the text remains horizontal and is placed at the end of the secondary cause line.
Fishbone Diagram
You can show tertiary causes and quaternary causes if desired, but this is usually not necessary.
Categories of Causes
After all the causes are listed, you may want to group them into categories. You can make up your own groups specific to your problem or you can use the standard ones. Common categories include: Equipment, Process, People, Materials, Environment, Management, and Maintenance. In our chart, the two causes on the top are controlled by management and we place a Management box at the top. The lower cause is an equipment problem so we place Equipment at the bottom. We also added a date to the fishbone diagram, the person responsible for updating the diagram, and a background color from the stencil.
Fishbone Diagram
Examine Causes
Once the chart is drawn, you can then examine each cause and mark whether it is a true cause of the problem. Different approaches are possible. In the diagram below we added a key to show which causes have been examined. We highlighted true causes in yellow, put a red cross mark through causes that were eliminated, and put a check mark near the cause which would be examined next.
Fishbone Diagram
You can download this chart from fishbone-tutorial.flo.
You are finished with a fishbone diagram when you have solved the problem. It then becomes good documentation for others who may run into similar problems.

Fishbone diagrams are similar to Cause Maps. The difference is that the effect is placed on the right in a fishbone diagram and on the left in a cause map. Cause maps put all the text inside boxes and not on lines like fishbone diagrams. Also, cause maps don't use categories to group related causes. Cause maps are a little easier to read since they never place text on diagonal lines. but the methods are similar and either can be used to solve your problem. Cause maps show tertiary or quaternary causes more clearly and are easier to draw.

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