Ask yourself ‘’Why’’ 5 times

The 5 Why’s is an iterative interrogative technique originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda in the 1930s, used within Toyota to explore the cause and effect relationship relating to a particular problem/concern. In fact, Toyota so strongly believes in the 5 Why process, that they use it as part of their induction process for their staff members to this day. The 5 Why process is a handy tool to use in order to quickly establish the underlying causes of an issue (root cause) and finding a permanent solution, as opposed to a temporary one.

The 5 Why’s is a system that uses counter-measures rather than temporary solutions, whereby a countermeasure should help to prevent the issue arising again, and will, therefore, prevent the problem from recurring again in the future. The 5 Why’s technique is one that I, myself integrate into our business model, using the 3 C’s technique (Concern, Cause, Countermeasure), whereby, the concerns raised are documented on our in-house concerns register, with deadlines on when they need to be addressed by. This technique is a great, interactive one that gets the team involved, and, whereby, we can put measures in place for everyday issues. For an advanced business approach, a more proactive method called the Failure Mode and Effects Analysis can also be utilised, this method, through a thorough analysis and initial time commitment, helps to put processes and measures in place before any issues even occur. We do not firefight a problem, we prevent it from occurring in the first place.

The 5 Why’s is a technique used in the Analysis phase of the Six Sigma (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) methodology, and is most effective when problem-solving, for moderately difficult problems.

Using the 5 Why’s process:


1. Assemble a team

When completing a 5 Why process, it is a fantastic idea to bring in experts in the field. Maybe even include an individual as a facilitator (team-leader), who will keep the team focused and on track with regards to identifying counter-measures. Use a whiteboard as opposed to a computer for this stage as it is a more visual process where the team can all interact together.

2. Define the problem

Discuss any concerns with your team and write it down on the whiteboard. Visually seeing a concern will help to initiate a thinking process. Write it down as a clear problem statement that is agreed within the team. The 5 Why process is also a great tool to use within a team, as there may be concerns brought up that, you, yourself did not even think of. For example, a concern you could bring up is the new GDPR compliance and how prepared your business is.

3. Ask the first ”Why?”

The team may come up with obvious reasons for the first ”why”, however, answering the question requires thought and intelligent consideration. Therefore, why would the GDPR compliance be a concern? The answer to the first why could be that your team has not really come across it before, and they do not feel prepared for it.

4. Ask ”Why” four more times

Working sequentially with the answers you obtained in step 3, now ask a further four ”why’s”. Again, record your responses on the whiteboard. Therefore, why does the team not feel prepared for GDPR compliance? Lack of interest. Lack of resources. Lack of training.

It is clear to see from the 5 Why process that training needs to be put in place for the team in order for them to feel more comfortable and confident about the new policy.

5. Know when to stop

When the ”Why” process has no more useful responses it is time to stop. As a team, we write the initial concern on our concerns register, along with the solution we have found by following the above process and implementing a due date on when we need to resolve the concern by.

It may be that you have gone through the 5 Why process and found that one of your team members has failed to take necessary action. However, instead of assigning blame, you can ask why it happened, and prevent it from occurring again in the future. The 5 Why tool is a simple, yet effective one that can be used in any business, big or small.