How to Create a Fishbone Diagram in Excel Featured Image

How to Create a Fishbone Diagram in Excel

Is your project affected by delays, quality issues, or budget overruns? If so, you must be trying to find the root causes. 

We understand that attempting to identify the source of a problem can sometimes feel daunting. But there’s a powerful tool waiting in your toolbox: Microsoft Excel!

This article explores how to create a fishbone diagram in Excel. This visual detective board will help you identify the contributing factors to your project’s woes, perform a detailed root cause analysis (RCA), and develop effective solutions to prevent future headaches. 

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What Is a Fishbone Diagram?

A fishbone diagram, also known as an Ishikawa diagram or cause-and-effect diagram, is a visual tool for solving problems. Shaped like a fish skeleton, it shows the problem at the head and potential causes along the bones. This structure makes it immediately clear how different factors contribute to the issue at hand.

The main goal of a fishbone diagram is to organize and explore possible causes of a problem. By laying out potential causes in a structured way, it helps teams dig deep to find the root causes, not just the symptoms. This organized approach transitions smoothly into the next benefit: encouraging teamwork.

A key feature of the fishbone diagram is that it promotes teamwork and diverse ideas through collaborative brainstorming and mind mapping. Bringing different perspectives together gives a complete picture of the problem. 

The visual format of the diagram also simplifies complex problems, making them easier to understand and communicate. This structured approach naturally helps you identify issues and present solutions effectively. 

As a result, using a fishbone diagram helps organizations tackle issues by focusing on the real causes, leading to better solutions and continuous improvement

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How to Create a Fishbone Diagram in Excel

With its versatile drawing and formatting tools, Excel is a great application for creating a fishbone diagram. 

You can follow these detailed steps to create a fishbone diagram in Excel:

Step 1: Prepare your data

  1. Identify the problem: Define the main problem or effect you’re analyzing. This will be the ‘head’ of the fishbone
  2. Determine the main categories: Identify the major categories of causes that contribute to the problem. Common categories include methods, machines, people, materials, measurement, and environment

Step 2: Set up your Excel worksheet

  1. Open Excel: Start by opening a new Excel worksheet
Excel Worksheet
via Excel
  1. Insert shapes: Go to the ‘Insert’ tab, and click ‘Shapes’. You’ll use various shapes to create the diagram
Excel Features

Step 3: Create the fishbone diagram structure

  1. Draw the backbone
    • Select the ‘Line’ shape from the ‘Shapes’ menu
    • Click and drag to draw a horizontal line across the center of your worksheet. This line represents the ‘spine’ of the fish
Inserting Shapes for fishbone structure in Excel
  1. Add the head (problem statement)
    • Select a shape like a rectangle or oval from the ‘Shapes’ menu
    • Place it at the end of the spine (on the right-hand side)
    • Enter the problem statement in this shape
Adding problem statement in Excel
  1. Create the main categories of causes (bones)
    • Select the ‘Line’ shape again
    • Draw diagonal lines branching off from the main spine. These lines represent the main categories of causes
    • Space the lines evenly along the spine and ensure they point upward and downward 
    • Label each line with one of the main categories. You can use text boxes or shapes for the labels
Adding various categories in Excel

Step 4: Add sub-categories and causes

Draw sub-branches and label them

  • For each main category line (bone), add smaller lines branching off. These sub-branches represent the specific causes related to each main category
  • Use the ‘Line’ shape to draw these sub-branches
  • Use text boxes or shapes to label each sub-branch with a specific cause
Inserting sub-categories in Excel

Step 5: Format and customize the diagram

  1. Adjust line styles
    • Select any line, right-click, and choose ‘Format Shape’
    • Customize the line style, color, and thickness as desired
  2. Arrange and align shapes
    • Ensure all shapes and lines are neatly aligned and spaced for clarity
    • Use the ‘Align’ and ‘Distribute’ tools under the ‘Format’ tab to help with this
  3. Add colors and effects
    • Apply colors to different categories and causes to enhance visual distinction
    • Use effects like shadows or 3D styles from the ‘Shape Format’ tab for a more polished look
Formatting and customizing diagram in Excel

Step 6: Finalize the diagram

  1. Review for completeness: Make sure all potential causes are listed and accurately represented
  2. Save your work: Save the Excel file to avoid losing any changes
  3. Share or print: You can now share the Excel file or print the diagram for use in meetings and presentations
Finalizing diagram in Excel

By following these steps, you can create a detailed and visually appealing fishbone diagram in Excel. 

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Limitations of Using Excel for Fishbone Diagrams

Despite its strengths, Excel has several limitations when designing and managing these complex diagrams, which can impact the efficiency and effectiveness of the problem-solving process. 

Here are some of these key limitations to consider when using Excel for fishbone diagrams:

Manual effort

Constructing a fishbone diagram in Excel requires significant manual effort. You must draw lines, shapes, and text boxes to represent the structure of the diagram, which can be time-consuming and cumbersome

Formatting challenges

Aligning and formatting elements to maintain a clear, readable diagram can be difficult. Excel is primarily designed for tabular data flow and standard charts, not for complex, custom diagrams

Static nature

Once created, fishbone diagrams in Excel are relatively static. Making changes, such as adding or removing causes, requires manual adjustments to the diagram, which can disrupt the layout and require reformatting

Lack of dynamic linking

Unlike dedicated diagramming tools, Excel does not offer features like dynamic linking of causes and sub-causes. You must manually update all related elements, increasing the risk of errors

Handling large diagrams

Excel can become unwieldy when dealing with complex fishbone diagrams that involve many causes and sub-causes. The canvas size is limited, and managing a large number of elements can lead to a cluttered and difficult-to-read diagram

Performance concerns

As the number of graphical elements increases, Excel’s performance can degrade, leading to slower response times and potential crashes, especially in older versions or on less powerful hardware

No built-in templates

Excel does not provide built-in fishbone diagram templates or tools specifically designed for fishbone diagrams. You must create these diagrams from scratch, lacking the efficiency and ease of use offered by specialized diagramming software

Limited analytical tools

While Excel is great for data analysis, it lacks the specialized analytical tools that can be integrated with fishbone diagrams to identify and prioritize causes more effectively

Sharing and collaboration

Sharing fishbone diagrams created in Excel can be less efficient than using cloud-based diagramming tools that support real-time collaboration. Excel files must be shared and updated manually, which can lead to version control issues


Interactive features, such as clickable elements or embedded notes, are not natively supported in Excel, limiting the ability to create engaging and informative diagrams that facilitate collaborative problem-solving

Skill requirements

Creating an effective fishbone diagram in Excel requires proficiency with the software’s drawing and formatting tools. If you’re not familiar with these features, you may find it challenging and time-consuming to produce a professional-looking diagram

Due to Excel’s limitations for fishbone diagrams, let’s shift our focus to more powerful alternative solutions. 

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Alternative Fishbone Diagram Software

You can overcome Excel’s limitations using specialized fishbone diagram software like ClickUp and use multiple additional features and functionalities, including fishbone diagram templates.

Improve your root cause analysis with ClickUp’s Fishbone Diagram Template

ClickUp’s Fishbone Diagram Template is more user-friendly, customizable, and collaborative than a simple Excel spreadsheet. It offers integrated project management and visual tools, facilitating a more efficient and effective problem-solving process. 

Here are the steps to use this fishbone diagram maker in ClickUp:

  • Sign up for ClickUp: Create or log in to your account and add the template to your Workspace. Invite your team members to collaborate
  • Identify the problem: Define the main issue you’re trying to solve (use a Doc in ClickUp)
  • Brainstorm causes: Generate potential causes using ClickUp Whiteboards
  • Group-related causes: Organize causes into categories using ClickUp Tasks
  • Choose the root cause: Analyze the causes and identify the most likely source (use the Board view)
  • Develop a solution: Create a Checklist in ClickUp to track the solution steps. Track progress with custom task statuses and update team members

Key features of this template include: 

  • Custom statuses: Create tasks with custom statuses like ‘Open’ and ‘Complete’ to meticulously track the progress of each cause and effect within the fishbone diagram. This feature ensures transparency and accountability throughout the problem-solving process, allowing stakeholders to stay informed about the status of individual elements
  • Custom fields: Customize and categorize tasks with attributes to facilitate a structured approach to managing the causes and effects of a problem or idea. With customizable fields, your team can easily organize and visualize relevant information, making it simpler to identify patterns and correlations between different factors
  • Custom views: Access multiple views within ClickUp, such as the whiteboard templates and ‘Start Here’ configurations, to gain comprehensive insights into the entire problem or idea at a glance. This versatility lets you tailor your visualization approach based on your preferences and the complexity of the issue at hand, ensuring clarity and coherence in the analysis process
  • Project management: Use project management capabilities within ClickUp’s fishbone diagram template to manage and coordinate tasks and resources related to the problem-solving process. Examples include tagging tasks for easy identification, creating nested subtasks to break down complex tasks into smaller, manageable components, assigning tasks to multiple team members, and prioritizing tasks using labels or markers

Here’s why ClickUp’s Fishbone Diagram Template can be a better alternative to Excel’s:

FeatureClickUp Fishbone Diagram TemplateExcel
Ease of useReady-to-use template; easily set up in secondsRequires manual creation from scratch
CustomizationFully customizable with custom statuses, fields, and viewsLimited customization, and manual adjustments needed
CollaborationReal-time collaboration with whiteboard software, task assignment, and feedback collectionBasic collaboration features; lacks robust real-time feedback and task management
Project managementIntegrated project management features: tagging, nested subtasks, multiple assignees, priority labelsNo built-in project management integration
Visual toolsVisual tools like Whiteboard View and Board View for brainstorming and organizing ideasBasic visual tools, shapes, and lines
Tracking and updatesReal-time status updates, progress tracking, and monitoring tasksNo pre-built template is available
Template availabilityPre-built, fully customizable Fishbone Diagram templateSeparate analysis tools or manual methods are required, disrupting workflow
Workflow integrationSeamless workflow integration from problem identification to solution developmentIsolated tool; additional tools or methods needed for workflow integration
Analysis and solution developmentFacilitates analysis and solution development through integrated featuresSeparate analysis tools or manual methods required, disrupting workflow

You can also use ClickUp Mind Maps to create a fishbone diagram. 

Set up your main problem and then start branching out with all the potential causes as illustrated in the picture. This is similar to how a fishbone diagram works. It’s also neat because you can see everything laid out clearly.

ClickUp Mind Maps
Create fishbone diagrams and find root causes for process inefficiencies using ClickUp Mind Maps

One of the best parts about using Mind Maps to create a fishbone diagram outline is the collaboration feature. Your whole team can jump in and contribute in real time, so you won’t miss out on any important causes while brainstorming.

Plus, ClickUp integrates these mind maps with tasks and projects. So, if you identify a cause that needs more investigation, you can instantly turn it into a ClickUp Task. 

ClickUp Whiteboard
Connect causes to the right problems with ClickUp Whiteboards

Another tool that can come in handy when creating fishbone diagrams is ClickUp Whiteboards. Whiteboards give you a clean canvas to connect causes to your problems.

You can use different colors, shapes, and text styles to make your diagram clear and visually appealing. It helps highlight the most important points and keeps everything organized.

These ClickUp tools will help you run your RCA well, create various project management charts, and make stellar presentations!

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The ClickUp Advantage for Root Cause Analysis 

Fishbone diagrams are powerful visual tools that help teams to systematically identify the primary causes of problems. 

While Excel offers a way to create them, ClickUp’s Fishbone Diagram Template improves the process with features like customizable fields, real-time collaboration, and integrated project management. You can also support the template with built-in Whiteboards and Mind Maps that give you an infinite canvas for collaborative brainstorming and problem-solving. 

This makes ClickUp an ideal solution for teams seeking a more efficient and collaborative approach to problem-solving. Sign up for ClickUp to know more! 

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