Fishbones and Post-It notes

It was time I actually wrote something useful. πŸ™‚

I thought talking about an easy way to do fishbone (cause & effect) diagrams might do the trick. I’ve used this technique many times and it works like a charm. No muss, no fuss. And more importantly, no fighting!

What you’ll need:
— a bunch o’ square Post-It notes (not the tiny kind you can barely write on)
— pens
— a giant, wall-sized white board (if you don’t have those, tape up butcher paper to a wall so you can write on it)
— Dry Erase markers (or regular magic markers if using paper)
— your project team πŸ™‚

Sequester your team in a conference room with the white board or wall o’ butcher paper. Write your output measure(s) on the white board to refresh everyone’s memory. Explain that you all are about to do some ‘silent brainstorming’. Pass a small hunk of Post-Its around to each team member and tell them to start brainstorming ANY input variable they can think of that might affect the outputs on the board. Reinforce the ‘brainstorming’ part and the ‘silent’ part. One idea per Post-It.


Let them scribble and think and scribble and think some more. Let them keep going until you hear practically no more scribbling. This part usually lasts around 5 minutes, maybe 10 if they are feeling extra creative.

Then have EVERYONE go stick their notes all over the white board. No particular order. Just stick ’em up there.

Now, if you have a small team, keep them all at the white board and have them start grouping like items together. If you have a large team, ask a couple of them to stay while the others sit down. I try to pick people who have been really quiet. This get them participating and involved.

As they group them, have them read the notes out loud. This stimulates discussion and more Post-Its might be thought of – or some of the Post-Its might be removed upon second thought. BUT, here’s a rule: only the author of a Post-It is allowed to remove it!

You might have to help them a bit here or there. The goal here is to start getting the ‘bones’ of your fishbone. You are aiming for 4-6 major ‘bones’ with as many ‘little bones’ as you’d like.

Once the groups/bones have started to take shape, take a dry erase marker and write the category (or bone) name above/below each group of notes. Connect the groups into bones and join it to the output measures! You have a fishbone!

The teams really love this exercise. It involves them all. The ‘silent’ portion of it allows them all a voice via the Post-It notes. And you have instant buy-in because the entire team helped create it.