The 5 Whys: Identifying a Problem & Asking Why?

4 Min Read
The 5 Whys: Identifying a Problem & Asking Why?

The 5 Whys, you must start by identifying a problem and asking ‘why is this happening?’. Problems can occur over and over again and this is a remarkably simple approach to identifying the root cause.

If the first answer doesn’t bring you any closer to solving the problem, you must keep asking ‘why’ until you find the weakness in the process. 

Quite obviously, the name comes from the idea that you can find the root issue after asking ‘why’ five times. This might not sound like a very sophisticated or innovative approach but don’t underestimate the potential of this simple tool. 

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Determine the Root Cause of a Problem

The 5 Whys technique was developed by Sakichi Toyoda and used by Toyota as an integral part of the lean methodology and a six sigma tool.

Designed to figure out what is really going wrong rather than basing decisions on what you ‘think’ is happening.  The 5 whys offer a great way to problem-solving, and eliminating the root cause is critical. An informed decision is based on a full understanding of the problem. 

5 Whys Analysis

Clearly define the goals of the analysis so you can pinpoint the exact problem.

The key component of the 5 whys analysis and root cause analysis process is to include people that have hands-on experience with the problem as they have the most valuable information.

Remember to keep asking “why?” until you find a possible root cause of the problem.

The 5 Whys Example

Why have sales been reduced?

  • Closing sales has decreased

Why? Weak leads so harder to sell to

Why? Using new software 

Why? Product change

Why? New member of staff

Solution: Training

This 5 whys example is how a plumber could use the 5 whys to work out what is going wrong and the solution. All businesses can benefit from this methodology.

  • Why? Puddle of water on the kitchen floor? Answer: Overhead pipe is leaking
  • Why? Why is the overhead pipe leaking? Answer: Too much pressure in the pipe
  • Why? Why is there too much pressure on the pipe? Answer: There is a faulty control valve
  • Why?  Why a faulty control valve? Answer: Control valve was not tested 
  • Why? Why has it not been tested? Answer: Control valves are not on the maintenance process checklist. 

: Control valves must be added to the maintenance process checklist. 

Give 5 Whys a Try

Problems don’t really go your way and this sounds so unsophisticated and simple but doesn’t underestimate its power to resolve your process problems.

Without determining the root cause of your problem, and identifying what is causing it, the problem is likely to keep coming back.

Why don’t you put this tool to the test by writing down a problem within your business and asking the 5 whys? Remember “5” is just a number you can ask “Why” as many times as you need to solve your problem.

What if Root Cause is Human Error?

Mistakes happen, we all make mistakes occasionally it’s inevitable no one is perfect.  But when continual mistakes and errors happen it can be detrimental to business reputation and profits.

Process workflow management software can give you the power to standardise your processes and procedures. Refine your processes and allow the process management software to guide employees in best practices and ensure that every step is carried out the best way possible without the potential for mistakes.

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