Five whys – Uses, step-by-step guide, and Challenges.

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What are five whys?

Five whys (5 whys) is an interrogation technique used to identify the root cause of any problem. As the name suggests, it investigates the cause and effect relationship underlying any given problem. It consists of five why-questions to find a solution and resolve the issue. 

This interrogative technique was invented in Japan in the 1930s by Sakichi Toyoda who used it within the Toyota Motor Corporation. It is an important component of problem-solving training. The Toyota company still uses this technique for problem-solving as do a plethora of other companies. 

What is the use of the five whys?

As mentioned before, the five whys technique is a problem-solving tactic, used to improve the quality of the product and to solve issues that don’t have an immediate or an obvious cause. This technique performs efficiently with problems that have simple or moderate difficulty. For example our landing page CTA isn’t converting, why?

However, they cannot be used on complicated or difficult problems. That’s because many different parts need to be assessed when it comes to complex issues. Moreover, there might be more than one cause for the surface issue and have a lot of branches to be explored. Thus, it can cause a lot of inconvenience with difficult problems. 

Alternate techniques like cause and effect analysis can be used instead to solve such problems. 

How to conduct the five whys exercise?

Some of the steps to exercise the five whys are as follows: 

First step

The problem-solving process starts with establishing rapport with the problem and familiarizing oneself with the product and the parts that are affected. 

One of the team members acts as a facilitator to ensure that the group is focused on the problem and works to find the solution. A problem statement needs to be written to understand the problem and define the issue so that everyone agrees. 

Second step

The second step starts with asking the first-why question – ‘Why has the problem occurred?’ For instance, “Why don’t we make sales?”

The objective of this question is to find a precise answer about the occurrence based on observation and insights. It cannot be estimated, instead, it needs to be clear so that one obvious cause can be identified. Once the two or more answers to this question are found, only then it’s recommended to move on to the next step. 

Third step

This step requires to ask the other four whys and find each of their answers. Considering the same example of the first-why, here is how the other four why’s can be formed. 

First why?: We don’t make sales.

Second why?: We have less advertisement

Third why?: We have poor quality graphics

Fourth why?: The team is not well-trained

Fifth why?: We have low budget

And voila! You have your root cause traced to the lower budget and the need for increased funding. This way, you can ask the five whys to find the root cause of the problem and ultimately a solution to the root cause.

What are the challenges faced while performing the five whys?

Often, the number of questions asked to get to the real problem is not just five and it requires other perspectives to understand the cause of the problem. In such a case, there may be the need to ask “what,” “how,” and “where” types of interrogation for the best solution. 

Another challenge is, teams don’t know the boundary of when to stop asking the questions. They may keep going on and on in a vicious circle without finding a response that is valuable for the solution.

FAQs

Q: Who created the five whys?

A: The five whys is an interrogative technique invented by  Sakichi Toyoda who used it in Japan in the 1930s. It was used within the Toyota Motor Corporation.

Q: What is the importance of the five whys?

A: Five whys crucial to improve the quality of the product, and to solve issues that don’t have an immediate or an obvious cause. This technique performs well with problems that have simple or moderate difficulty. 

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