Effective Problem Solving

The Five Whys Method

In order for a business to function effectively and efficiently, a reliable and consistent method for addressing problems and challenges needs to be implemented. More importantly, the method used should be concerned primarily with uncovering and resolving the root cause of a problem and not simply resolving the apparent surface issue. One of the most powerful methods for uncovering and ultimately addressing the root cause of a problem is known as the Five Whys Method.

The Five Whys Method was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda when he was designing the internal procedures that would be used by Toyota Motor Corporation. His technique is still used by many companies today and is taught by problem solving experts across the globe. The Five Whys Method provides a means to explore the cause and effect relationship between a perceived problem and the underlying deficiency that ultimately caused the problem to occur. The Five Whys Method is very basic in its concept, but flexible and scalable enough to account for almost any issue that may need to be addressed regardless of complexity.

The premise of the technique is this: For any problem that arises, simply asking the question, “Why?” multiple times can lead to the root cause of the issue and provide insights into the proper solution to correct the problem now and in the future. The method is named the Five Whys Method because, on average, at least five levels of questioning are needed to discover the root cause of a problem. Certain problems, depending on the complexity of the issue, will require more than five iterations.

Example of the Five Whys Method in use

Problem: Our client, Acme Corporation, is dissatisfied with our services.

1. Why is Acme Corporation dissatisfied with our services?

A :  Our Company failed to deliver their order on schedule.

2. Why did our Company fail to deliver the order on schedule?

A : The production group was unable to finish the products on time.

3. Why was the production group unable to finish the products on time?

A : The production group is currently experiencing a slower-than-normal production rate.

4. Why is the production group experiencing a slower production rate?

A : The area of the building where they work is too dark to quickly complete production tasks.

5. Why is that area of the building too dark?

A : A high-rise building was recently erected nearby and is blocking the natural sunlight that normally shines through the windows.

Solution: Install additional lighting fixtures to properly illuminate the production area.

As shown by the example above, a simple problem can ultimately be the result of a deficiency in a seemingly unrelated area. Failing to properly identify the root cause of a problem can easily lead to encountering the same surface effect multiple times. By moving from a very general issue through multiple steps of detailed questioning it is possible to accurately identify the core opportunity that needs to be corrected. Discovering the root cause of a problem and correcting the deficiency at the source is the most efficient method for resolving a problem and preventing the problem from occurring again in the future. The simplicity of the Five Why Method and the ease with which it can be applied to real world situations makes it a powerful tool for effective problem solving.