Using a Fishbone Diagram

Fishbone diagrams are used in the Analysis phase of projects as a technique for finding the contributions to, and root cause(s) of, a particular problem.

Early in the Library Reading List process improvement project, brainstorming with mix of academics and Library staff, explored the potential causes of the module coordinators not engaging with the Library not in providing module reading lists – the head of the fish! Each member of the group was asked to identify 3-4 reasons they think the Library might not receive the list. Asking for multiple reasons from each person makes them think beyond the first assumed root causes – thinking outside of the box. All of the reasons were grouped based on similarity of theme (the bones of the fish bone) then placed in their category on the Fishbone diagram (process causes, tool causes, people causes or knowledge/awareness causes). Small bones were used to illustrate causes that are a subset of big bones. In our session we choses ‘process’, ‘tools’, ‘people’ and ‘awareness/knowledge’ as the four big bones.


  • VV = Very likely to happen, very easy to fix
  • VS = Very likely to happen, somewhat easy to fix
  • VN = Very likely to happen, not easy to fix
  • SS = Somewhat likely to happen, somewhat easy to fix
  • SN = Somewhat likely to happen, no east to fix
  • SV = Somewhat likely to happen, very easy to fix
  • NV = Not likely to happen, very easy to fix
  • NS = Not likely to happen, somewhat easy to fix
  • NN  = Not likely to happen, not easy to fix

Using cause screening, the group identified the kinds of cause – causes that were more or less likely to happen; those that are easier or more complex to fix. This screening highlights the areas in which the most value can be gained from the least effort e.g. first address the causes that are likely to happen and are easy to fix, do not pay as much attention, at least initially, to the causes which are not likely and cannot easily be fixed.

The areas highlighted through this session were the timing; submission of lists; and the perception academics have of the process. This exercise confirmed the timing issue was significant, brought to light the fact that module coordinators are expected to submit Reading lists to multiple venues (Library for teaching, Library separately for research, campus bookshop, students), and made clear that the academics do not understand the value of figuring out how to engage with the process.
The live solution can be accessed here: We will keep you up to date with progress!

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *