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Understanding Fishbone Analysis to Uncover and Solve Problems + Example

Learn how to use a Fishbone analysis and Fishbone diagram to uncover the root causes of a problem.

Motion Blog
at Motion
Sep 26, 2023
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In the dynamic landscape of small businesses, challenges come knocking regularly, and solutions aren’t always simple to come up with. In e-commerce, for example, a persistent problem emerges — abandoned shopping carts.

Picture a small startup doing pretty well when suddenly, one summer, customers fill baskets only to slip away before buying. If only the company knew what the root cause was so that next summer, they could avoid the same issue

There’s hope — the fishbone analysis — a method that dissects the intricacies of any business problem, including abandoned carts.

This guide covers the basics of conducting a fishbone analysis with your team to discern the best solutions to a problem. Plus, we’ll solve the issue of too many abandoned carts.

What’s a root cause analysis?

root cause analysis (RCA) is the practice of assessing the underlying issues behind a problem. RCA helps define, measure, analyze, and control problems at their core.

There are several types of RCAs, including the Pareto chart, the 5 Whys and the fishbone analysis.

Pareto charts

A Pareto chart combines a bar graph with a line graph to highlight the frequency or impact of problems descending from left to right. It’s useful when you need to focus limited resources on addressing the most critical problems or improving the most important aspect of a process or system.

The 5 Whys

The 5 Whys is a simple RCA approach that prompts you to ask, “why did this happen?” about an issue five times. Each possible cause is drilled down on about five times until you reach the root. This RCA helps define the root cause of one problem in particular or can be combined with a fishbone diagram to find several root causes.

Three types of root cause analyses in a table

‎Fishbone analysis

A fishbone diagram visualizes the fishbone analysis in the shape of a fish skeleton by analyzing affinities (or categories) of a problem into many possible causes. The head is the problem statement — the large bones are the problem’s affinities, and the smaller bones are the possible root causes. Fishbone analysis is ideal for complex problems with many affinities and root causes.

What is a fishbone analysis?

Fishbone analysis is a visual discovery tool used to uncover problems by analyzing root causes. The fishbone analysis diagram highlights the root of any business problem — from manufacturing to local retail.

Fishbone diagrams help teams analyze complex issues and develop targeted solutions. Fishbone analysis is typically conducted with a group of subject matter experts. The diagram on a board fosters collaboration and structured problem-solving.

Also known as the Ishikawa diagram or cause-and-effect diagram, the fishbone analysis (and its diagram) was developed by Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa, a Japanese quality control expert.

Fishbone analysis is an essential tool in Six Sigma projects, where it’s used to identify and eliminate causes of defects and errors in an existing product or operation.

When to use a fishbone analysis

Using fishbone analysis and its diagrams are vital in these scenarios and many more like them:

  • To investigate defects or quality issues in manufacturing processes.
  • To identify factors affecting the development of a new product.
  • To investigate workplace accidents or safety violations to prevent future occurrences.
  • To investigate underlying causes of recurring customer complaints.
  • To investigate root causes of software defects and glitches.

Use a fishbone analysis whenever you encounter a problem in your business with no visible solution. Problems can be business-oriented, production-oriented, and even customer-service-oriented. The fishbone's idea is to uncover any problem's root cause.

Anatomy of a fishbone analysis diagram

The fishbone analysis diagram looks like the bare bones of a fish. The head and spine represent a problem. The straight bones represent an affinity or category of causes, and the smaller bones represent the root causes.

The importance of a clear problem statement

The head of the fishbone represents the problem and must start with defining the problem you want to analyze. The more specific the definition, the better. Vague problem statements won’t inspire the team to brainstorm direct root causes. Here are two examples:

Vague problem statement: Our sales are down

Detailed problem statement: Our sales revenue in Region A declined by 15% compared to the same quarter last year, and this is the first year it has gone down instead of up.

A fishbone analysis diagram

‎Write the problem statement at the "head" of the fishbone and refer to it during the brainstorming session.

Selecting categories or affinities

In the visual fishbone diagram, a category or affinity is one of the prominent “bones” stemming from the spine. Each category must be an affinity of the problem statement; essentially, the things that can affect the problem and stem further into root causes.

Use at least four and no more than eight affinities for best results. If you have too many, it’ll get difficult to come up with the right solution, and if you have too few, some root causes might be missed.

Brainstorming root causes

Below or inside each categorical “bone”, start defining possible root causes. If, for example, the category is “website issues,” some root causes might be slow loading times, inefficient interface, and confusing navigation.

Brainstorming is easiest with a group; meet with your team to work on the fishbone analysis. Attempt to find up to five root causes per affinity. The idea is that from the root causes, you can come up with possible solutions.

Coming up with solutions

After the root causes are written down, you can start to analyze the solutions or actions to start solving the categorical issues one by one.

Try to add one or two solutions for each category and then rate them by importance and ease. When execution of the solutions begins, keep your fishbone diagram handy to see how the solutions help to address the original problem.

Types of fishbone analysis diagrams

There are three main types of fishbone analysis diagrams, and they all work as templates that can be applied to different industries.

6M fishbone analysis

The 6M fishbone analysis consists of six categories starting with the letter M you can analyze to find root causes. This analysis was created in the manufacturing industry but can also capture the root causes of other business problems.

A 6M fishbone diagram analysis diagram

‎Manpower (Workforce)

This category looks at the human elements involved in the process or problem, such as skills, training, knowledge, and workforce issues.


Methods refer to the processes and procedures for carrying out a task or operation. Problems related to inefficient or ineffective methods fall under this category.


Materials include all the physical resources used in a process, such as raw materials, components, and supplies. Problems in quality or availability are considered here.


Machinery can include equipment, machinery, tools, and technology, with machine performance, maintenance, or breakdown issues.


Measurement involves metrics, data, and measurement systems. Problems related to inaccurate or inadequate measurement processes fall into this category.

Mother nature (Environment)

This category includes external factors beyond human control, such as weather, temperature, humidity, or other environmental conditions.

4S fishbone analysis

The 4S fishbone analysis uses fewer categories to analyze a problem. It works for any business problem in the service industry. That said, it can be used for any other industries as well.


This category refers to the physical environment in which a service is delivered or a process occurs, including the workspace layout, cleanliness, lighting, and overall atmosphere.


Suppliers encompass all the external entities and resources that provide inputs. This includes external vendors, subcontractors, or anyone who plays a role in supplying materials or information.


Systems relate to the processes and procedures that govern how work is done. It includes the systems used for scheduling, communication, documentation, and any software or technology systems.


Skills involve the responsible individuals' competencies, training, and capabilities.

8P fishbone analysis

The 8P fishbone is a larger example, typically used in enterprise scenarios where the problems have lots more categories than a small business might have.


This category covers aspects related to the product itself, such as its design, quality, features, and specifications.


Price considerations involve factors like the cost of the product or service, pricing strategies, and how price impacts customer perceptions.


Place refers to the distribution and location aspects of delivering a product or service, including distribution channels, accessibility, and geographic reach.


Promotion encompasses marketing and advertising efforts, including advertising channels, promotional materials, and messaging.


People are the individuals involved in the process, including employees, customers, and stakeholders. This category focuses on their roles, attitudes, and interactions.


Processes include the methods and procedures used to deliver a product or service. This category explores efficiency, workflow, and process design.

Physical evidence

Physical evidence refers to tangible elements that support the service or product, such as packaging, signage, or physical facilities.


Performance relates to how well a product or service meets the expectations and needs of customers. It considers quality, reliability, and customer satisfaction.

A fishbone analysis use case about an ecommerce company getting too many abandoned shopping carts.

‎Fishbone analysis diagram example with custom categories | E-commerce business use case

Standard fishbone analysis diagrams are great, but a fishbone analysis with custom categories is ideal for small businesses. First, you write the problem statement; then, you select between four and eight categories of possible causes and build out the diagram.

In this example use case, the goal was to identify critical root causes behind the increase in abandoned carts and to formulate strategic solutions for increased customer satisfaction and retention during an upcoming summer season.

The team analyzed five custom categories and brainstormed between two and five root causes per category. They came up with solutions, some quickly and some that needed more work.

Take a look at their analysis. Below each category are the root causes and, below them, the chosen action. This analysis is only an example; you can go into much more detail on your own fishbone analysis.

Product pricing

Root Causes:

  • Lack of seasonal discounts
  • Price competitiveness
  • Hidden costs

Proposed solution: Offer more attractive summer discounts, bundle deals, and exclusive offers.

Customer behavior

Root Causes:

  • Customers put things in their carts and then forget
  • Browsing behavior
  • Seasonal buying patterns

Proposed solution: Send better cart abandonment emails with personalized product recommendations to encourage the completion of purchases.

Website factors

Root Causes:

  • Slow page load time
  • Complex checkout process
  • Mobile responsiveness issues

Proposed solution: Optimize speed by investing in content delivery networks and reducing unnecessary scripts on the product pages

Marketing and communication

Root Causes:

  • Ineffective email follow-ups
  • Misaligned seasonal campaigns
  • Insufficient retargeting ads

Proposed solution: Join forces with the solution from customer behavior and develop a cart abandonment email sequence.

Customer service and support

Root Causes:

  • Inadequate product information
  • Limited customer support availability
  • Return policy concerns

Proposed solution: Enhance product descriptions and create and upload high-quality images. Encourage user-generated content.

Competitive environment

Root Causes:

  • Competitors have more appealing loyalty programs
  • Product variety
  • Competitor promotions

Proposed solution: Develop an enticing loyalty program that rewards repeat customers with exclusive perks.

Uncover any problem with a fishbone analysis

As you incorporate the fishbone analysis into your problem-solving toolkit, remember that small businesses' challenges aren’t insurmountable. With the right tools and strategies, you can unravel the root causes behind any problem.

Use Motion to help you schedule brainstorming sessions – it’ll use AI to find a time when everyone is available. Then, use Motion project management to assign, schedule, and track all the tasks related to the suggested solutions. Let Motion schedule what gets done first and assess whether the problem is solved completely or whether you need more work with your team.

Try Motion for free today and start solving all your business’s problems efficiently.

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Written by Motion Blog