Did we forget to ask the right questions?

If you see a business problem you’ll want to solve it.

But before you jump into fixing a problem you need to uncover its root cause. You don’t want to rush to conclusions.

Even on a tight deadline, take time to look beyond the obvious sources.

The five why’s is a technique you can use to get to the root cause of a problem.

Five why’s analysis means you ask why up to or sometimes more than five times.

This lets you drill down far enough to get to the root cause of a problem, and then decide what you must do about it.

This is how it works. First, you select a cause. There may be more than one, so choose the most influential. This is the most important of the five whys; why does the problem exist? Here is an example. Richard is a supervisor on the floor of a plastics factory. Production levels are falling, and he thinks the most likely cause is faulty equipment on the production line. When he investigates he finds that he’s got a broken machine on the factory floor. So he asks the first why; why is this machine not working?

In response to Richard’s first why the machine operator says that the inflow of material is inconsistent. This prompts Richard to ask the second why; why is the inflow inconsistent? Taking the first cause you identified, and asking “why does this occur?” may provide more than one possible answer. You’ll need to narrow these down before asking the third why.

In our example, Richard might find that there’s a problem with raw materials not arriving in a steady flow on the line, or perhaps workers are using an incorrect flow measurement technique. To narrow down the possibilities you need to investigate each of the potential causes you just identified to determine if there is data to support eliminating one of them.

When you have only a few remaining causes your team should select one as the key cause that addresses the second why. Suppose on further investigation Richard discovers the cause is likely to have something to do with the measurements.

He asks the operator why the measurements are incorrect, and learns that the measuring tool isn’t giving correct readings.

Why does this occur? Because it hasn’t been calibrated. Why hasn’t it been properly calibrated? Because the wrong calibration formula is being used. And that’s it. Using as many whys as needed to get there; Ben identified the root cause, and can now do something about it. He consults with his engineers to adjust the machine calibration formula. Problem solved.

Don’t be afraid to be curious. It may take five questions, but it could be as many as 15 or as few as three. The point is to be open to, and willing to explore all possibilities. Using the five whys technique ensures that you’re getting down to and solving the root cause of a problem, not just applying a quick fix to an issue that will crop up again later.

Here is another visual example:

5 Whys can have a single lane or multiple lanes. This is how multi-lane 5 Whys looks like

Have you ever used the 5 Why’s to solve business or professional problems? IF so, share your experience, else let us know what tools have you used :)

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

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