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Fishbone Diagram for Virtual Group Brainstorming

Virtual brainstorming is hard. It relies on people working together in sync. The team needs to be able to contribute an collaborate at the same time.

What is the Fishbone Diagram?

The fishbone diagram is a cause and effect brainstorming method. The fishbone diagram is also known as the Ishikawa diagram (named after its inventor, Japanese quality control expert Kaoru Ishikawa). It is easily one of the most effective tools to identify cause and effect when combined with the 5 whys. It helps people to quickly identify the root cause and stop guessing.

Other Names for Fishbone Diagram:

  • Root Cause Analysis
  • Cause and Effect Diagram
  • Cause & Effect Mindmap
  • Ishikawa diagram

Cause & Effect Mindmap for Software Development

The fishbone diagram can be considered as a cause and effect mindmap, as it groups possible areas of the problem. It then helps teams easily visualize where all the possible causes could be leading to the problem. To breakdown and get further causes using the 5 whys approach with the fishbone diagram is highly recommended.

Fishbone diagram template using Miro – The Cause and Effect Mindmap

How does a fishbone diagram work for software development?

The 3 steps to working on a fishbone diagram are as follows:

  1. Create a problem statement as the fish head. What is the problem? How does the problem occur? When does the problem happen?
  2. Set broad categories or areas do potential causes fall into (max 10). Possible categories for software products: Users, Software, Marketing, Integrations, Database
  3. List out all of the individual causes for each category or area as the bones of the diagram

Use 5 Whys to systematically dig deeper and uncover new potential causes.

What do you do after the fishbone diagram? The 5 Whys

You have started by creating as many branches as you see fit all could be categories of the possible problem. The next step is to use the 5 whys to ask. The 5 whys help the team think of new causes. Then you ask why is this causing the problem and as you keep asking why you are creating links on the branch. It should come to a conclusion typically after 5 whys.

How do you make a fishbone diagram virtually?

Virtual brainstorming is hard. It relies on people working together in sync. You don’t have a whiteboard as you would normally have to have people openly put up postits and feel like they can actively contribute. Using Google Hangouts or zoom meetings are good but for a facilitator, it can be very difficult to squeeze ideas out of people. We previously discussed how you can use ice breakers for virtual meetings to get people engaged but what is the next step to continue engagement?

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You can create fishbones with PowerPoint and share your screen looking for inputs but it’s really just one person driving the conversation and lacks engagement you would get in real life.

How do you get virtual teams to engage in brainstorming?

The solution is to use virtual whiteboard tools such as miro. You can see the people interacting with the diagram below. One of my favourite features is actually seeing peoples name as they interact so you can discuss on the zoom meeting while the person is making the changes.

This works really, especially when you are writing out effects using the 5 why method mentioned above.

Using Fishbone Diagram with Virtual teams and Miro

Fishbone Diagram Template for Virtual Teams

Miro has ready-built fishbone template you can use straight away here.

Virtual Fishbone Tutorial

Other Quality Checking Tools like The Fishbone Diagram

The fishbone diagram is one of the Seven Basic Tools of Quality – 7 QC Tools. This would be the first place I would check if I felt the fishbone diagram wasn’t exactly what I was looking for to help identify issues. Different circumstances require different tools.

  • Stratification (Divide and Conquer)
  • Histogram.
  • Check Sheet (Tally Sheet)
  • Cause-and-effect diagram (“fishbone” or Ishikawa diagram)
  • Pareto chart (80/20 Rule)
  • Scatter diagram (Shewhart Chart)
  • Control chart
Fishbone Diagram for Virtual Group Brainstorming
Shane Drumm

Shane is an Agile Project Manager who specialises in digital web projects. He has worked with numerous distributed teams in Asia, Europe, US and Australia. In his spare time, enjoy travelling, cycling, digital start-up ventures and hustling to help other business owners with their digital presence. Find out more about Shane on shanedrumm.com and please reach out and connect with Shane on LinkedIn.


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