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)