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The 5 Whys – A Step-By-Step Framework To Deal With Problems

It’s high time someone said it out loud – “quick fixes” aren’t the right way to deal with recurrent issues.

Whether it’s accomplishing a corporate target, or managing your team amidst a difficult process – coming across stubborn problems is almost inexorable.

Nonetheless, looking for temporary fixes always strays us further away from analyzing the root cause.

And most importantly, it doesn’t guarantee that you won’t circle back to the same problem again, because it was never solved in the first place.

The 5 whys technique, an integral part of the Lean management theory, is however used worldwide to examine the root cause of any inefficiency. This process encourages a person to find deeper answers every time by clearing the confusion, one question at a time.

The Origin of The 5 Whys Technique

You’ve heard about the Toyota Production System, right?

The 5 whys process was given birth by Japanese Industrialist/Inventor Sakichi Toyoda and it is currently a fundamental part of Toyota’s Lean philosophy.

“The root of our scientific approach is to keep on asking why five times, every time a recurrent problem arises,” said Toyoda. “By the time we’ve asked why for the fifth time, the root cause becomes pretty visible.”

5 Whys Technique – A Practical Demonstration

Before getting started, here’s something you should know: this process thrives on making highly informed decisions. So, whenever you’re analyzing a problem with the 5 whys technique, make sure to build a team of skilled personnel with expertise in relevant fields.

Here’s a practical example of the technique application:

Problem: The staff failed to run a marketing campaign for a to-be-announced revised AI face recognition app.

Analysis: 5 Whys technique

1. Why did we fail to run the marketing campaign on time?

Answer: There wasn’t enough information about the revised updates the segment is supposed to feature.

2. Why wasn’t the information about the updates available until the deadline?

Answer: The dev-ops team wasn’t able to design the finalized product on time.

3. Why wasn’t the dev-ops team successful at finishing the product within time?

Answer: Two of the newly-joined developers turned out to be novices to the process the rest of the team was following.

4. Why were the recruits unable to function as per that process?

Answer: They didn’t receive proper training about the distinctive process the company follows.

5. Why didn’t the recruits receive proper training?

Answer: The current CTO is not fond of investing in standalone employee-training sessions; he believes that learning on the job is the best way to learn.

As you can see from the analysis, journeying from the initial problem to the actual cause is why this technique is so popular. This process breaks down why the underlying inefficiency causing ruckus exists, layer by layer.

How To Initiate The 5-Whys Technique

If you find yourself circling the same, ol’ issue at your workplace, these are the following steps you can follow to initiate the 5 whys technique:

1. Team formation

The most important part of the process is to form the right team. Keep in mind, that the team must be diverse; it should consist of seasoned professionals from different fields to help reach the root cause via in-depth investigation.

2.Defining the issue

Now that you’ve gathered the right people to finish the job, discuss the concerned issue deeply. This will help you get an initial, and clear view of what you’re about to work on. Besides, you won’t be wasting time beating around the bush.

3.Asking why

Here comes the fun part: start asking why until you’re deep enough to have the root cause at your fingertips.

However, not more than one person should be asking the question throughout. If too many people start asking why the entire flow will disrupt and you’ll deviate from the root cause, or in some cases, even stray away from the initial reason.

Also, know when to stop asking why; realize when you’ve strayed away from the actual efficiency that’s causing the mess.

4.Acting on it

Now that asking questions has helped you reach the ultimate why it’s time to take the necessary actions to correct the underlying issue. Make sure to involve the entire team and seek their views and opinions, as it makes way for creative thinking and unique solutions to fix the core problem.

Summing It Up

What once became popular as a Toyota Lean management process is today one of the most efficient root cause analysis tools in the corporate industry. The 5 whys technique is an error-proof procedure that encourages team involvement, collaboration, creative thinking, and analysis.

So the next time your team gets stuck anywhere, start asking questions about why you’re unable to overcome the inefficiency.

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