How to Make a Cause and Effect or Fishbone Diagram

A cause & effect diagram maps out the possible causes of an event or problem that a person or business is trying to understand.

Make a cause and effect or fishbone diagram in just a few easy steps:

  1. Start by naming the main problem or event. This usually goes at the head of the "fish" in your diagram.
  2. Make categories for causes and create the "bone structure" of your fish. Common categories include: people, methods, measurements, materials, machines and environment
  3. List possible causes under each category including variations in a process or design.
  4. Insert your completed fishbone diagram into any report or presentation.
How to make Fishbone diagrams

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SmartDraw makes creating cause and effect diagrams easy by automating much of the design. All you have to do is start with a template and adding categories and causes is as easy as clicking a button. Just watch the video.

Start with a Cause and Effect Template

To create a cause & effect diagram, select Cause & Effect in the Template Browser. SmartDraw has several templates and examples to start from including the 4 S's of the service industry, the 6 M's of manufacturing and the 8 P's for administration. The basic template starts you out with a simple cause & effect structure and specialized cause & effect tools in the SmartPanel that will help you customize your diagram.

Cause and Effect Template

Identify a Problem

The first step in any cause and effect diagram is, identifying the problem. If you started with a cause and effect template, you'll already see a box marked "The Problem" at the end of a fishbone-like structure. Click on the box and type in the specific problem you're trying to find causes for.

Identify problem Type problem

Adding and Deleting Causes

SmartDraw's basic template lists four main causes. You can specify your own by clicking on any of the boxes, selecting the text already there and replacing it with your own. To add more causes to your diagram, just click Add Cause in the SmartPanel to the left of your drawing area and SmartDraw will add another perfectly formatted branch. Click Add Detail to add more details to your branch. Continue to add however many causes and details you think you'll need. If you want to get rid of a detail or cause just click Delete Detail. To delete an entire branch, click on Delete Cause and your branch will disappear while the diagram reformats itself automatically.

Delete cause Automatic reformatting

Revising and Editing Details and Causes

It's easy to move a detail around if you determine that it belongs under a different cause. Just click on it and move it to a new position. As you approach the new part of the visual, connection points and dashed lines appear, showing the positions where you can place the detail. Release the detail when you're ready to snap it to the desired connection point. The other details and causes will adjust to accommodate the newly placed detail.

Edit detail Move detail

Adjusting Spacing

Besides being able to easily adjust the size of symbols by using the black control handles, like you can in all SmartDraw visuals, you can also manually adjust the size and spacing of the spine and branches of your cause and effect diagram. Click on a branch and you'll see black squares appear where the details are connected to it. You can drag these black squares to adjust the spacing of your selected branch and the spacing of the other the branches will adjust accordingly to maintain an even look. If you select the spine of your cause and effect diagram, you can adjust the spacing between all the branches. On the spine, you'll also have an additional control a white diamond or circle that can adjust the space between all the causes attached to the spine.

Adjust spacing

Changing Branch Style

To change the branch style of your cause and effect diagram, choose from one of the Branch Style options in the SmartPanel and the diagram will reformat automatically.

Change branch style

Adding a Professional Look and Feel

You can further customize your cause and effect diagram choosing a different theme from the Themes menu on the Home ribbon. When your diagram is complete you can print it out or export to various file formats to share with others.

Cause & effect analysis provides a structured way for you and your business to figure out all the possible causes of a problem and make it easier to find a solution. And no software helps you make cause & effect diagrams more quickly and easily than SmartDraw.

Color theme