Fishbone Exercise

The fishbone is a simple way clarifying or problem-solving tool. Sometimes, it is called a cause and effect session, but fishbone visually describes the diagram used.

fishbone diagram

Here are the basic steps for doing the fishbone exercise, and an illustration of the fishbone exercise for injury prevention:

  1. Define the problem or opportunity in a brief statement that all can agree upon.

  2. In the fishbone diagram, four categories have been suggested. They are audience, resources, indicator selected, and evidence for measuring progress. You may want to devise your own basic organizational scheme. These outgrowths become the main fishbone in your diagram. You will add smaller branches to some or all of these as you proceed.

  3. Now brainstorm for each outgrowth of the fishbone:

    A. What your team knows

    B. What your team needs to know

    C. What your team need to do

    D. What your team needs to know how to do

    This is an open brainstorming session in which any idea, a cause for the defined problem, no matter how far-fetched is allowed and added to the diagram as another fishbone "rib" on one of the appropriate major categories. The idea is to generate as many ideas as possible that would explain why the problem exists or how the opportunity might be seized. No discussion as to the merits of the idea, and especially no negative comments are allowed. This absolutely must be strictly enforced. The only discussion might concern under which branch to place the idea, and the moderator should quickly step in to make a placement in case of disagreement, even if the placement is arbitary.

  4. After the team has exhausted its ideas, discussion is allowed. It is helpful if this takes the form of an explanation of the concept or thinking behind each idea by the one who proposed it, and even expansions on the idea. Try to keep things positive, and don't drag it out.

  5. Number each idea on the fishbone diagram, and provide each person with a piece of paper. Each person is to select the five ideas he or she thinks have the most merit in defining the causes, or opportunity, and rank these five from most important to least important. You may want to decide on criteria for ranking importance of the ideas. The most important is given the value 5, and the least 1.

  6. Now list each team member scores against the idea, and add them up. The item with the highest total is the one the group has selected as having the most potential for addressing.

-Adapted from Maryland School Improvement Project