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Teams often face ongoing blockers and challenges that can slow down - or completely halt - their progress towards continuous improvement. That's frustrating. Luckily, a fishbone retrospective can help. While running a root cause analysis - the systematic process for identifying the underlying root causes of a specific problem - isn’t a new concept, it is a challenging and more advanced facilitation technique.

Retrium’s Fishbone technique makes running these agile retrospectives easier and more approachable for teams of all experience levels. By combining step-by-step guided facilitation with our commitment to creating a safe space for agile teams to participate in an honest and safe discussion, teams can focus on what really matters - finding the causes of a specific problem they’re facing and creating innovative solutions to improve the way they work together in future sprints. 

Use a Fishbone diagram when you want to…

Find the underlying root causes of a specific problem affecting your team

Run an inspect & adapt event

Overcome prior challenges experienced in the root cause analysis process

How to run a Fishbone retrospective in Retrium

Like other sprint retrospective techniques, Fishbone retrospectives move through a series of phases to help teams identify the real root of their blockers and challenges.

Preparing for the Retrospective meeting

Since a fishbone analysis is designed to help teams identify root causes of a specific issue, it’s a good idea to remind your group that the discussion will be focused on resolving the problem. Ask them to reflect on a possible adverse event from a previous sprint and come prepared with notes, as appropriate.


Once you’re selected the fishbone retrospective technique from Retrium's Retrospective Technique Picker, the first phase of the retrospective is to define the problem statement. In the fishbone cause-and-effect diagram, the problem statement becomes the head of the fish. A well-crafted and appropriate problem statement is the single most important step for an effective root cause analysis. So take your time! We’ve included qualification statements to help ensure your problem statement is clearly defined. 

Your team does not have to reach 100% agreement that the problem statement meets each of these criteria. Instead, focus on the questions these criteria bring to the surface, and revise the problem statement as needed. Once the problem statement is good enough to prompt a productive conversation, it’s time to move on!


In the Think phase, team members will individually contribute causes for discussion. Think of these causes as a continuation of your problem statement by adding “because” and completing the sentence appropriately. Notes created during this phase are seen by all participants in the retrospective to help prompt additional input, but this can be changed by the facilitator if private brainstorming is preferred.


Once the first causes have been identified, it’s time for your team to group similar causal factors together to build and name branches under a common theme. In many other fishbone diagrams, these groups are already defined. You can use the group names you may be more familiar with, or you can use names that are more unique to your team’s problem statement and identified potential root causes.  

Any cards that are not grouped into a branch will be added to one named “Other” and will appear as the last branch on the diagram.    


Here your team will again be asked to contribute cause statements that elaborate on the original causes identified, referred to as causes-to-causes. This phase is a deeper exploration of the causes already identified and grouped. It’s important to recognize that your team may need time to deeply explore how they’d respond to “why” something is a problem when asked multiple times (similar to the approach of the 5-Why analysis). It’s common for teams to spend more time in the Elaborate phase than in the Think phase as these causes are further explored.  


By this time, your team has spent time identifying causes and causes-to-causes as it relates to your problem statement. These have been grouped into branches in your fishbone diagram, and you can now see the tail and the bones of your fish.  

Now, it’s time to discuss these causes to identify your causes we’ll address. As you work to identify specific causes to address, the facilitator has several prompts that help focus the discussion on what the team has control over, what you need to clarify, and what requires help, for example. Based on the prompt, the team will select the relevant causes and then show only those causes for discussion.  

Not every prompt and discussion will lead to a cause to address. But when a cause is identified, you can easily capture these in your retrospective, and later they’ll be visible in your team room. When the discussion slows, you can select another prompt or create your own to move through the discussion of your causes. 

Wrap up

When it’s time to end your retro, wrap it up by asking your team for feedback on the value of the conversation. Reveal your results and discuss what could have made a more effective retrospective, if necessary. 

Congratulations! You’ve completed your fishbone retrospective. Once you close your retrospective, your causes to address, or CTAs, will be saved in your team room as well as in your history. 

Ready to run a Fishbone retrospective?

The Fishbone template is only available to Retrium customers. Sign up for a 30-day trial to try one of our other techniques for free before upgrading your account for access to fishbone.

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