5 Whys - A Problem Solving Technique

The 5 Whys Problem Solving Technique is a question-asking technique used to determine the root cause of a problem. The simple process of asking the why question multiple times will lead you to understand what caused a problem, leaving you able to address it. Here is how the tenchique works
5 Whys - A Problem Solving Technique
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What is the 5 Whys Problem Solving Technique?

The 5 Whys Problem Solving Technique is a question-asking technique used to determine the root cause of a problem. This is a tool that we use in our Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Training Course.

The 5 in the title suggests it should take no more than 5 questions to get to the root cause of the problem.

Developed by the founder of Toyota Sakichi Toyoda, the 5 Whys Technique is used in problem-solving, trouble shooting and improving processes.

It may not solve the problem by itself but may guide you to an alternative path to follow, for example using a cause and effect diagram (Ishikawa diagram) or another problem-solving tool to fix the problem.

The technique is designed to guide you to the root of the problem.

How to Use the 5 Whys Problem Solving Technique

Here's how to use the 5 Whys Technique.

Start with the problem and ask a 'why' question about the problem. The next 'why' question you ask should then follow on from the answer to the first question. Here's an example:

The vehicle will not start. (the problem)

  1. Why? - The battery is dead. (first why)
  2. Why? - The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
  3. Why? - The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
  4. Why? - The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
  5. Why? - The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)

You could possibly take this to a 6th or 7th why, but 5 is usually enough to get to the root of the problem.

It's important to understand that typically the 5th why doesn't point to a solution - it points to processes. This answer doesn't tell you how to fix the problem, only what caused it.

What If the Technique Does Not Work?

This is where some other problem-solving tool will come in useful to determine why the root cause existed. So in the above example, the process of servicing the vehicle failed and this is then what needs to be corrected. A cause and effect diagram can then help you to determine which part of the process failed and what corrective actions need to be taken to correct this for the future.

There has been some criticism of the tool in that it's too basic or doesn't fix the problem. But when time is short and you need to get to the root cause quickly then the technique is incredibly useful.

5 Whys Problem Solving Training Course

If you would like to know more about the 5 Whys Problem Solving Technique and how to use it in your day to day work, our Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Training Course will provide you with some help and guidance on this.

Example taken from Wikipedia


David Lumley09-12-2014

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