in Improvement & Development, Process Improvement, Quality Improvement

Five-Why Technique for Problem Solving and Decision Making

In pursuit of improvement, it is very important to get to the root-cause. If you don’t know “why” an improvement is needed – you won’t improve in the right areas.

“Why” should come before “what”, “how” and “when” because “why” clarifies the direction. The hallmark of a learning organization is that they ask “why” more often than others.

It is crucial to ask right questions and get to the core – be it a decision making process or getting to the root causes.

I read about “Five Why” technique long back – but practiced it recently. According to Wikipedia:

The technique was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and was later used within Toyota Motor Corporation during the evolution of their manufacturing methodologies. It is a critical component of problem solving training delivered as part of the induction into the Toyota Production System.

Real problems are like onions – layered and not always easy to find. “Five Why” is a great method to uncover each layer and get deeper into actual reasons for failures/defects.

You can use “Five Why” technique in a number of ways:

  • You can define your career goal and ask “Why do I want to achieve this goal?” – whatever the answer, ask a "why” again. Check if those are the right reasons.
  • When someone from your team suggests an improvement, ask “Why is this improvement needed?” and then repeat why for 5 times.
  • When you encounter a problem in your operations, you can ask “Why did this problem occur?” and then dig deeper with five why’s.
  • Five Why can be used for assessment of our decisions (self-analysis) and is also a great tool to interview people to find facts.

Objectivity is important to ensure that you focus on “why” and not “who” – else it turns into a blame game. The great thing about this simple tool is that it does not require any sophisticated tools or software. It is easy – and can lead to lot of common sense thinking. Used consistently, it can also lead to new ways of thinking.

So the next time you struggle with a problem or decision-making process – you know what to do!

Have a great start into the week!

P.S: You might also like reading a two part post “On Decision Making and ‘Elephantine’ Way of Doing it. (Read Part 1 and Part 2)

  1. What an informative topic to begin the week! It’s also a saying that “One who knows ‘Why’ becomes the ‘Boss’ and One who knows ‘How’ does the Job”… How is equally important to remain in technicality of any specific task, but it’s always ‘Why’ that makes oneself a boss of many new thoughts and ideas. Thanks for sharing this Tanmay.

    Jay Chhaya

    • @Jay Thanks for the comment Jay – the person who knows “Why” is generally a boss. That notion is true – but even as a professional, if you constantly scout for “why” – you become a better professional who knows the core of his/her work area. Why takes you to the core.


  2. Very Rightly said Sir. Specially for QA professionals it’s very necessary to know all ‘why’ aspects of an application under test (AUT). This helps us dig the business scenarios to be tested and hence minimize the risk of defects to arise later at client end other than functional issues. These end to end usability scenarios indeed makes a difference.
    Same could be for any work domain or profession.

    Jay Chhaya

    • Totally agree Jay – you may be working in a particular area of project or you may be working on the business. In any case, relentless focus on why is important to advance yourself and do right things.


  3. Yes this really works. You get to know the actual answer for your base question.I tried it with mine 🙂

    As pointed out by Tanmay, knowing the root cause is very important. While studying, students mug up the content without understanding its real meaning why is it so. Teachers always keep telling the students to understand the real meaning and that is the best way to remember it forever.

    Five why is a superub technique to know the root cause of anything that we are doing and whether it is required to be done.
    Once you know the root cause and you know that it is required to be done then no doubt it will be done with your full interest in it and so will be done perfectly.


    • @Amit Thanks for trying out 5-why method – it certainly works. 5-Why is specially useful when you are at a career cross roads and need to identify your interests. It takes time, and a few failures, but eventually if you keep practicing 5-Why’s for all your decisions (career, work and personal) – you gain a lot of clarity.

  4. That’s an interesting read and 5-Why analysis is a great tool to get to the root cause of an issue. Don’t forget to identify countermeasures that address the root causes and to implement systems to support the countermeasures (Training, new or improved PM’s, SOP, One Point Lessons, etc.).

    Chris Paulsen

    • @Chris – Thanks for stopping by Chris and sharing your thoughts. Techniques like 5 Why (and others) help identify the root causes. That is just the beginning, and all improvement starts when this knowledge is acted upon. Execution is the key to address root causes. That is where The Rubber Meets The Road 🙂


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