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  • Writer's pictureSarah Butler

The 5 Whys Problem-Solving Technique: How to Solve Problems Effectively and Quickly

Updated: Nov 14, 2022



Are you facing a problem at work that is keeping you from moving forward? Do you ever feel like your team is spinning its wheels and not getting anywhere?


Because they are symptoms of deeper issues, stubborn or recurrent problems are often difficult to address. Using up precious resources to sort out superficial issues rather than the real cause is what is known as a 'quick fix'.

When this happens, it could be time to implement the 5 Whys problem-solving technique to get things moving again.


The 5 Whys technique is a simple but effective problem-solving method that can be used in any situation or industry. It’s especially helpful when you need to solve problems fast – whether they are small issues or something more substantial.


In the 1930s, Japanese industrialist, inventor, and founder of Toyota Industries Sakichi Toyoda developed the 5 Whys technique. It became popular in the 1970s, and Toyota still utilises it today to address difficulties. It was designed to go to the heart of the problem on the production floor, rather than what someone sitting in the boardroom thinks is the problem.


In this article, we’ll take a look at what the 5 Whys technique is and how it can help you and your team tackle challenging problems with ease.


How to use the 5 Whys technique

The 5 Whys problem-solving technique can be used when you encounter a problem that needs to be solved quickly. The technique involves asking “Why?” five times to get to the root cause of the problem.


It all starts with identifying the issue. You want to make sure that you are as clear as possible about what the problem is.


Keep asking why till you reach a satisfactory answer. This can also be referred to as “root cause analysis.”


Make sure that you and your team have the right tone when discussing this issue. This can be a tricky problem-solving technique, and you need to make sure that you are handling it in the right way.


Ask each team member to explain their part in the problem and then to suggest a solution going forward. The idea is that when you ask someone why they did something a certain way, they will be forced to think through their reasoning. This process is helpful because it can help you (and others on your team) to identify a variety of possible solutions.

Why is the 5 Whys technique effective?

The 5 Whys Technique is effective for a number of reasons.


First, it gets everyone on the same page. When your team is working on a project, there is often some level of miscommunication. This can cause issues and headaches down the road. The 5 Whys technique can help to identify these miscommunications and fix them.


Second, it helps you to identify any underlying problems that may be causing the issue. Some issues can have many layers to them. The 5 Whys technique can help you to peel back these layers and identify all of the contributing factors.


Third, it gets everyone actively engaged in the problem-solving process. When you are using the 5 Whys technique, everyone on the team is actively engaged in finding a solution. This can help to improve team morale and get everyone invested in finding the best solution. When everyone is actively engaged in the problem-solving process, it is easier to solve those problems and move forward.


Lastly, teams respond to this technique because it goes further than laying blame with someone - it asks why did this occur - was there a process to blame, for example?


Does it have to be 5 Whys?

In reality, you may need fewer or more than five whys. The principle is to use it as much as required to uncover the fundamental issue.


Once you've reached a point where asking 'why' no longer yields a useful response, you'll know that you've identified the core issue. A suitable countermeasure or process alteration should then become apparent.


Example

As you can see from the below example, had the 5 Why's not been used the issue could have been placed with the printing staff or even with the client. However, the technique identified the root cause could be rectified by changing suppliers.

Conclusion

The 5 Whys strategy is an effective tool for identifying the source of a problem. It may be used in troubleshooting, problem-solving, and quality-improvement projects. It begins with identifying an issue and asks why it is occurring. Because you answer should be based on fact, ask why it is occurring again. Keep asking until you uncover the source of the dilemma and find a countermeasure to prevent it. This questioning approach is most suitable for simple or moderately difficult issues.


Despite the fact that 5 Whys will still provide you with valuable information, complex issues may gain from a more comprehensive approach.


When you are facing a problem, it can be tempting to jump to conclusions and make assumptions about what the cause is. Instead, you should use the 5 Whys technique to help you get to the root cause of the problem. This technique can help to identify the real cause of the issue and come up with real solutions.


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