• Joumana Elomar

The Ishikawa Diagram

Whenever we solve problems, there are decisions to make. For complex cases—when we might be unsure of where to begin—unpacking the possible causes of the problem methodically can help. So how do we do that?

The Ishikawa Diagram

Created by organisational theorist and professor Kaoru Ishikawa, the 'Ishikawa Diagram' is a visual tool for identifying the root causes of a problem. Originally created for solving problems in manufacturing, it's a simple tool to help us tackle complex spaces. You may have heard of it as the 'Cause-and-effect' or 'Fishbone' diagram. Here's what it looks like:

A step-by-step guide

We have four steps in the process.

  1. Define the problem

  2. Identify the factors

  3. Find possible causes

  4. Analyse the diagram


We choose a problem, and draw a line to the left or right.

Let's say we want to analyse why company silos exist.


We identify the factors. To keep it simple, let's unpack attitudes, teams and the organisation itself. So here we: List the factors that could contribute to the problem and plot them along the main line. Your factors will differ depending on the situation. So have a good think!


Find possible causes.

  • Ask: "Why is this happening?" Write each possible cause as a line under the factor.

  • You can use the 'Five whys' here. So keep asking yourself why to dig to the heart of the problem. e.g. "Why did I sleep in? I slept late. Why did I sleep late? I've been struggling to sleep. Why am I struggling? I haven't been exercising as much" etc.

Voila! Now we have a diagram that maps out the complexity of the problem. Or in this case, an incredibly simplified exploration of why company silos exist.


Analyse the diagram. Here, we need to look at all the possible root causes and analyse them. This is arguably the hardest step. This diagram gives us a base for our thinking and next steps. It lets us look at the system holistically before committing to any decisions.

Tying it up

The Ishikawa diagram is simple yet powerful. By analysing the root causes of a problem, it gives us a better base to make stronger decisions. Categorising causes is a really effective way to break down complex problems, and see them from different perspectives. Happy analysing!

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