Have you ever had a challenge that was very persistent?
No matter what you tried, sooner or later it would return, perhaps in another form. Recurrent challenges are often symptoms of deeper issues. „Quick fixes“ often solve only the surface issues.
In today´s blog post, I will share how to use the five Why´s tool for your strategic decision-making.
This is a simple but powerful tool for cutting quickly through the outward symptoms of a challenge to reveal its underlying causes, so that you can deal with it once and for all.
- ⇒ What are the five Why´s?
- ⇒ What is the origin of this technique?
- ⇒ When should you use the five Why´s tool?
- ⇒ How to use the five Why´s
- ⇒ Summary
What are the five Why´s?
The method is quite simple: when a challenge occurs, you ask WHY five times until you reach its root cause. Then, when a counter-measure becomes apparent, you follow it through to prevent the issue from recurring.
The example is from the book The High Velocity Edge by Spear, Steven: The car will not start.
- Why? – The battery is dead. (First why)
- Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (Second why)
- Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (Third why)
- Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (Fourth why)
- Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (Fifth why, a root cause)
The questioning for this example could be taken further to a sixth, seventh, or higher level, but five iterations of asking why is generally sufficient to get to a root cause.
What is the origin of this technique?
Sakichi Toyoda, the Japanese industrialist, inventor, and founder of Toyota Industries, developed the five Whys technique in the 1930s. It became popular in the 1970s, and Toyota still uses it to solve problems today.
When should you use the five Why´s tool?
You can use five Whys for:
- Troubleshooting, quality improvement, and problem solving.
- It is most effective when used to resolve simple or moderately difficult problems.
Note: The tool doesn´t work to tackle a complex or critical problem.This is because five Whys can lead you to pursue a single track, or a limited number of tracks, of inquiry when, in fact, there could be multiple causes. In complex cases you will need to use different and more effective methods, such as Cause and Effect Analysis or Failure Mode and Effects Analysis.
- The five Why´s technique can often direct you quickly to the root cause of a challenge.
- Whenever a system or process isn’t working properly, give it a try before you embark on a more in-depth approach.
How to use the five Whys
Step 1: Bring your team together
Gather together people who are familiar with the challenge, and with the process that you’re trying to fix. Include someone to act as a facilitator, who can keep the team focused on identifying effective counter-measures.
Step 2: Define the challenge
If you can, observe the challenge in action. Discuss it with your team and write a brief, clear challenge statement that you all agree on. Important, leave enough space around it to add your answers to the repeated question, „Why?“
Step 3: Ask the first „Why?“
Ask your team why the challenge is occurring. Asking „Why?“ is simple, but answering it requires serious thought. Search for answers that are grounded in fact.
This prevents five Whys from becoming just a process of deductive reasoning, which can generate a large number of possible causes and, sometimes, create more confusion as you chase down hypothetical problems.
Your team members may come up with one obvious reason why. Record their answers as succinct phrases, rather than as single words or lengthy statements, and write them below or next to your problem statement.
Step 4: Ask „Why?“ four more times
For each of the answers that you generated in Step 3, ask four further „whys“ in succession. Each time, frame the question in response to the answer you’ve just recorded.
Try to move quickly from one question to the next, so that you have the full picture before you jump to any conclusions.
Step 5. Know when to stop
You’ll know that you’ve revealed the root cause of the challenge when asking „why“ produces no more useful responses, and you can go no further. An appropriate counter-measure or process change should then become evident.
If you’re not sure that you’ve uncovered the real root cause, consider using a more in-depth problem-solving technique like Cause and Effect Analysis, or Root Cause Analysis.
If you identified more than one reason in step 3, repeat this process for each of the different branches of your analysis until you reach a root cause for each one.
Note: The „five“ in five Whys is really just a „rule of thumb .“ In some cases, you may need to ask „Why?“ a few more times before you get to the root of the problem. Stop asking „Why?“ when you stop producing useful responses.
Step 6: Go to the root cause
Now that you’ve identified at least one root cause, you need to discuss and agree on the counter-measures that will prevent the challenge from recurring.
Step 7: Monitor
You need to watch on how effectively your counter-measures eliminate or minimize the initial challenge. You may need to replace them entirely. If this happens, it’s a good idea to repeat the five Whys process to ensure that you’ve identified the correct root cause.
- ⇒ Key Point #1: The five whys strategy is a simple, effective tool for uncovering the root of a challenge.
- ⇒ Key Point #2: It is very good for troubleshooting, problem-solving, and quality-improvement.
- ⇒ Key Point #3: This questioning process is best suited to simple or moderately difficult problems. Complex problems may benefit from a more detailed approach.
I´m available to support you through this difficult time by re-imagine your business. The five Why´s will help you in your strategic decision-making process.
We will develop a tailored strategy that will help you to get your business fast running at its peak performance.
Contact me for a complimentary 30-minute strategy session:
Coming up next month…
In my next blog post, I’ll share how to use the MOST Analysis?.
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