What is an Ishikawa diagram?

Probably you don’t know this diagram by the name of its inventor but its “Fishbone” aspect.

Although it can be employed for achieving or improving certain goals, we’ll suggest using it in problem solving situations, since we have personally experienced its effectiveness countless times.

The Ishikawa Fishbone is a very helpful cause-effect diagram that helps finding the root causes of any kind of problem.

Within this diagram, the different causes originating a problem have been traditionally categorized into 6 different groups:

  1. Material.
  2. Measurement.
  3. Machine.
  4. Method.
  5. Environment.
  6. Employees.

Classic Ishikawa Fishbone diagram representation.

Since the Ishikawa diagram was born within an industrial environment, the original categories employed are obviously Industry-related.

Nowadays, however, there are multiple and different economic activities that would hardly fit into this categorization.

 

Thus, after explaining Ishikawa’s diagram main components, well give you different examples that could be used in Blogging, SEO positioning and e-commerce businesses.

 

* If you have not read our “Problem Solving” page, we encourage you to do so. There, we highlight the importance of the Root-cause analysis when solving any problem, which is essential when building an Ishikawa diagram.

Ishikawa Fishbone diagram components

Although it is a very simple diagram that can be understood almost at first glance, it is convenient explaining carefully what to do and what not to when developing this analysis.

The Fishbone diagram is based on 3 components:

  1. The main Activities and Inputs involved in defining your final product.
  2. The Issues you observed within in these activities and inputs.
  3. The Problem you want to fix.

Of course, there can be ramifications, connections between branches…

You can develop the diagram as complex as you want, but its essence is based on these 3 principles shown.

1. Activities and Inputs (or areas)

The key stages involved in the final product’s elaboration.

As we mentioned, it depends on the product a company is offering, its customization, the raw material employed…

All the relevant Activities and Inputs affecting the final product’s characteristics and quality should be considered here.

The classic generic classification is:

  • Raw materials:
    • Whatever you are employing supplied by an external company.
  • Process:
    • The activities you carry out, in order to transform your Raw Materials into your final product.
    • It is better describing it as “Process” rather than “Machine”, since this way, you can cover more aspects.
  • People:
    • Persons involved at every stage.
  • Method:
    • It is what defines the Process.
    • Sometimes, the Process may be properly developed, but the Method incorrectly designed.
  • Environment:
    • Certain problems appear at a certain time, weather conditions, etc.
  • Measure system:
    • How you measure and check the quality is as essential as the product’s inputs itself.

 

You can use the Input or Activity that best suits your needs, but it would probably be related to one of these generic concepts in one way or another.

2. Issues observed within

As its name suggests, here, you must list down all the issues you found within the corresponding category that may have relation with the “big problem” you are trying to solve.

Sometimes, it is difficult to establish which “small” area-issues are related to the “big problem to solve” since the more difficult a problem is, the less intuitive its solution will be.

Start with the obvious ones, and then you can move on.

* Example: If you have issues with your computer, but the problem you are trying to solve is a bad Google ranking for your Website… you should not list this computer issue on your list… at least at the beginning.

 

You can branch these issues in different ways. The main grouping factors are:

  • Frequency:
    • How often these issues take place. Hourly, daily…
  • Sub-activities:
    • Which sub-area is really experiencing this problem.
  • The relation with other activities or inputs:
    • Whether there is a proven relation with other areas.

We recommend employing an “organization system” as flexible as possible since you can never guess the real criticality of a little issue that initially seems unimportant and later you realize it is the root of all your problems.

* All these sub-divisions, branches and groups may seem confusing, but don’t worry: after explaining the last “Fishbone” component, we’ll explain three examples that may help you understanding how building this diagram correctly.

3. Problem to be solved

This is what you are trying to fix or achieve.

As mentioned before, this diagram may be used for several purposes, but what is common to all of them is a “cause-effect” dynamic.

Sometimes, well-known and identified issues originate this problem so building the Fishbone diagram is much easier to develop.

 

Now, we’ll explain 3 examples in order you to understand better how properly developing a Fishbone Ishikawa diagram:

Fishbone Ishikawa diagram examples

The examples we are about to explain, will propose a Fishbone diagram for solving problems in the following topics:

  • Blogging business.
    • Problem to solve: Lack of monetization.
  • SEO Positioning.
    • Problem to solve: Bad SERP ranking.
  • e-commerce business.
    • Problem to solve: Lack of profitability.

As you may have imagined, they will have lots of common issues.

For certain problems, the “SEO positioning problem”, for example, will be just “one issue more” and for others, it is the main problem to solve.

* You will find all these examples in the “Planning Templates” within a single open Word document, that may be useful for you to start building your own Ishikawa diagrams.

 

Let’s begin:

Blogging Business - Fishbone diagram example

First of all, we must mention that we are not experts in the Blogging Business, so sorry in advance for the mistakes we surely have committed.

This is just an example for you to understand how you could orientate your diagram.

 

Ishikawa Fishbone diagram for a Blogging – Lack of monetization problem

 

As you can see, what initially seemed to be an undefined monetization problem, happened to be a lack of good attractive Topics.

 

What we would propose to this Blogger would be:

  • Maintaining his/her current structure, dig into new Topics by analyzing the Users behavior within the Page.
    • Do they like more the extended “posts” or the “short” full-of-pictures ones?
    • Do they follow the trends you are talking about?
    • What are they commenting on your Blog?
  • Depending on the answers, this Blogger should try fixing this “Rebound”, “Visits” and “Engagement” issues, checking then if it results in a more substantial monetization.

 

It is impossible to monetize a Blog if the Users are not enthusiastic about what you are talking about.

SEO Positioning - Fishbone diagram example

Now, let’s imagine a certain Website is not ranking properly on Internet, and decides to develop an Ishikawa diagram in order to study all the different factors affecting its positioning.

 

Ishikawa Fishbone diagram for a SEO – Positioning problem.

 

Improving your SEO is a difficult task that requires lot of effort and time.

  • This Fishbone diagram could be 2 meters long, but as a first step, this approach would be very helpful.

 

It seems that this website owner has been having fun when writing his/her pages or posts, but didn’t take enough care about focusing on a certain topic nor in organizing the overall site.

 

Seeing this Fishbone diagram, we could suggest:

  • First of all, organize all the website.
    • Having broken links, empty pages… punishes your SEO positioning.
  • Focusing on a certain Topic.
    • Improving your Posts’ authority.
    • Deepening the Topics more valued by Users.
    • Employing more time when writing the Posts.
  • Building Backlinks.
    • Once successfully accomplished these suggestions.

 

By doing this, this website won’t rank #1 on Google in one month, but surely it would improve its positioning considerably over the weeks.

 

Thanks to the Fishbone diagram’s layout, you can easily connect different issues within different areas, realizing about how important it is what you initially considered an insignificant problem.

e-commerce profitability - Fishbone diagram example

We are now analyzing an e-commerce company that is having a profitability issue.

Although it has remarkable sales all around the world, the owner is feeling that all this work is not being profitable enough.

 

Ishikawa Fishbone diagram for an e-commerce- Profitability problem.

 

This is a very common situation: people get excited when start to sell through Internet not initially caring about Margins or Profitability.

 

At first glance we can easily point out which are the problems:

  • This company is selling whatever the Customers are requesting.
  • The market is buying mainly low-margin products while the company is doing nothing for solving it.
  • The Customers are not receiving what they are expecting.
  • This is causing a mess regarding the distribution costs.

 

If you don’t design any strategy for your business the market will do it for you, and be sure you’ll be “squeezed” in few weeks, months or years.

 

We would propose to this company:

  • Stop commercializing low-demand low-margin products.
    • The last thing you want is getting a terrible brand name by selling low-demand products with no margin at all.
  • For high-demand low-margin sales, establish a strategy for selling high margin side-products.
    • If the market is requesting a product is giving you a poor margin, try to boost some complementary products with higher margins.
    • Remember the famous Popcorn example:
      • The Theatres have low margins, but by selling Popcorn they make important money.
  • Once done these two things, reduce the number of your suppliers.
      • Get rid of the worst -quality suppliers.
      • By centralizing certain purchases, try establishing a long-term relation with the best suppliers.
  • Centralize the sales establishing a close relation with 2 companies.
      • You always would need a backup, don’t reduce your options to just a single company.

 

This could go on and on.

  • This example has lots of points were we could suggest different measures to take.

What you must remember about these 3 examples is:

  • List down all the issues you found within the areas involved in the “Problem you want to solve”.
  • Link them together.
  • “Read” which may be the core of the problem.
  • Start taking actions for solving the issues found.

 

You will not solve everything at once, but if you acquire this work dynamic, you will experience amazing improvements in a medium period of time.

* Remember what we always say: big things don’t happen suddenly. Success is a long-distance race.

Summarizing

The Ishikawa Fishbone diagram is a useful tool for analyzing what is causing a problem and how this problem can be solved.

It is based on 3 main components:

  1. Activities and Inputs.
  2. Issues observed.
  3. Problem to be solved.

Regarding the “Activities and Inputs”, there are 6 generic areas commonly taken into account:

  • Material.
  • Measurement.
  • Machine.
  • Method.
  • Environment.
  • Employees.

However, depending on the project you are analyzing, you can alter them in order to better describe your economic activity or the problem you are trying to solve.

 

Once developed the Fishbone diagram, it is much easier linking together all the issues found (within the sub-areas taken into account) and finding out potential solutions for the overall problem.

 

This tool should be employed regularly when solving important or repetitive Problems. By doing so, you’ll improve your Problem Solving skills by getting used to think constantly in a multi-variable way.

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