What is the 5 Whys Technique?
The ‘5 Whys’ is a simple and effective tool for uncovering the root of a problem. It was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda as part of the Toyota Production System.
It is designed to allow you to treat the underlying cause of a problem instead of just treating the symptoms.
The ‘5 Whys’ is an incredibly simple tool to use. Start with a problem and ask why it is occurring. Make sure that your answer is grounded in fact, and then ask the question again.
Continue the process until you reach the root cause of the problem, and you can identify a counter-measure that will prevent it from recurring.
Download our FREE 5 Whys Toolkit
Luckily for you we are providing our usable 5 whys template absolutely FREE. Download includes a workable 5 Whys toolkit in spreadsheet format, or printable for team exercises.
Visit our Free Power of 3 Portal to get your 5 Whys Toolkit by clicking below:
"The basis of Toyota’s scientific approach is to ask why five times whenever we find a problem … By repeating why five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear." – Taiichi Ohno
Using our free toolkit, take the following steps:
Define the problem. This is the most important step of the exercise. The goal is to find the root of the productivity issues.
Ask why ...5 times - The most important part.
Address the root cause of the issue. Once you have identified the root cause of the problem, you can develop a plan to address it. For our example this might mean developing training opportunities.
Don’t forget secondary issues. When addressing secondary issues, the approach is the same as addressing the primary issue: continue to ask why until you reach the root cause of the problem. It's important to address all the issues, whether they are primary or secondary to fully understand and resolve the problem.
5 Whys Example:
A graphic design start-up has noticed that their incoming inquiries have decreased and revenue has plateaued.
Their marketing is not generating enough leads and conversions.
They have been relying on social media but their engagement and reach has been declining.
They have not been posting consistently and do not have a coherent content strategy.
They have too many client projects which are overwhelming them and taking up all their time.
Their pricing system is not optimised, leading them to take on too many projects to meet targets.
It is important to bear in mind that this questioning process is best suited to simple or moderately difficult problems.
Complex problems may benefit from a more detailed approach, although using 5 Whys will still give you useful insights and could be used to break the problem down into more manageable challenges.
Some other benefits of using the 5 Whys as a tool is that it is both cost- and time-efficient. The method can often be completed relatively quickly, using no more than a pen and paper or marker pens and post-it notes (Yohlar’s preferred method).
The 5 Whys encourages a preventative, versatile approach to problem solving – allowing the problem to be addressed at the source and across all different departments, industries and scenarios.
Some tips when using the 5 Whys Template:
1. 5 is the magic number
The "5" in 5 Whys is really just a "rule of thumb". In some cases, you may need to ask "Why?" a few more times before you get to the root of the problem. In other cases, you may reach this point before you ask your fifth "Why?" If you do, make sure that you haven't stopped too soon, and that you're not simply accepting "knee-jerk" responses.
The important point is to stop asking "Why?" when you stop producing useful responses.
2. Take aim don't blame
As you work through your chain of questions, you may find that someone has failed to take a necessary action. The great thing about 5 Whys is that it prompts you to go further than just assigning blame, and to ask why that happened. This often points to organisational issues or areas where processes need to be improved to prevent the same mistakes from happening again.
3. Be open-minded.
The process works best if you allow yourself to consider problems from all angles, and avoid letting your assumptions lead your answers.
4. Validate your root cause.
For example, the graphic design start-up above identified their pricing system as the ultimate issue. They should then conduct market research and speak to their customers to validate the prices that they should be charging. If they are already charging far above market rate, they may need to reassess the root cause of their problem.
5. Involve key workers.
An employee working in the department where the problem occurred is likely to have different ideas of the cause of the problem, than the CEO. To accurately identify the root cause of a problem, it is important to involve people with varying perspectives and insights into the issue under discussion.
Problem Solving with the 5 Whys
The 5 Whys can also be an important innovation tool, encouraging the development of innovative solutions to the underlying problems it uncovers.
By encouraging employees to ask why and think critically about problems, you create a culture of continuous improvement. This mindset shift opens doors to new ideas and fresh perspectives, leading to innovative solutions that can propel your business forward.
Using the 5 Whys will create a culture of curiosity, collaboration and creativity within organisations and teams, all of which is necessary to build an innovation mindset - one of our Power's of 3!
To find out more about our Power of 3 Framework, including the 5 Whys and how to develop an innovation mindset - our innovation team would love to chat! Alternatively, we have training courses available which include the 5 why's and our Power of 3 Framework. Browse the courses here: