Every business has issues and problems.  Recognizing these is fairly easy, fixing them however can be much more involved.   One of the tried and true methods for analyzing issues and discovering the root of the problem is the 5 Whys.  Although credit is given to The Toyota Motor Company for developing this process, in reality is has been around much longer than cars have been made and was used by thinkers like Ben Franklin.  Regardless of it’s origins, it’s a great tool to use with your team to help you effectively assess where you are and set the correct goals for positive growth.

When we look at problems it is human nature to focus on symptoms and not the root cause.  This is in effect tantamount to putting a band aid on a wound and expecting it to heal.  Band aids are a great solution for a small cut or a scratch, but a major wound needs much more serious medical treatment.  The basic principle of the 5 Why’s is that we an drill down to the root of a problem simply by continuing to ask “why” until we get there.  This can most often be accomplished within 5 steps.  MindTools has a great example:

In this example, the problem is that your client, Hinson Corp., is unhappy. Using the 5 Whys, you go through the following steps to get to the cause of the problem:

  1. Why is our client, Hinson Corp., unhappy? Because we didn’t deliver our services when we said we would.
  2. Why were we unable to meet the agreed-upon timeline or schedule for delivery? The job took much longer than we thought it would.
  3. Why did it take so much longer? Because we underestimated the complexity of the job.
  4. Why did we underestimate the complexity of the job? Because we made a quick estimate of the time needed to complete it, and didn’t list the individual stages needed to complete the project.
  5. Why didn’t we do this? Because we were running behind on other projects. We clearly need to review our time estimation and specification procedures.

There are several things to remember about using the 5 Whys:

  • It’s just a tool.  Like any tool it is not a “toolbox.”  It ought to be used in conjunction with other tools and be used at the proper time.  The 5 Whys generally works best for human interactions and issues (i.e. Performance related.)
  • “5” is just a number.  It might take 10, 7 or 3 whys.  Don’t lock yourself into the number.  Lock yourself into the concept that we need to drill down and find the root of a problem before we know how to fix it.
  • Each step should include verification.  After we have gone through the process, then go back and start over with each step and verify that information to be true.
  • The tool is limited to your knowledge.  In other words, you already know the answer, the tool is simply helping you find it.  Therefore we need to be continually growing our knowledge so that we have access to the correct answers for how to solve our problems.

I’ll leave you with a video on this process and a few questions…

What types of issues do have in your business that need solving?

What are the tools that you use to analyze problems and set goals for improvement?

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