Posted by: magnussonllc | September 18, 2009

Problem-Solving Techniques: The 5 Whys

Taichi OhnoThe 5 Whys is a simple problem-solving technique that helps users to get to the root of the problem quickly. 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. The architect of the Toyota Production System, Taiichi Ohno, described the 5 whys method as “… the basis of Toyota’s scientific approach … by repeating why five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.” The tool has seen widespread use beyond Toyota, and is now used within Kaizen, lean manufacturing, and Six Sigma. The 5 Whys strategy involves looking at any problem and asking: “Why?” and “What caused this problem?” Very often, the answer to the first “why” will prompt another “why” and the answer to the second “why” will prompt another and so on; hence the name the 5 Whys strategy.

Benefits of the 5 Whys include:

  • It helps to quickly determine the root cause of a problem
  • It is easy to learn and apply

How to use the tool:

When looking to solve a problem, start at the end result and work backward (toward the root cause), continually asking: “Why?” This will need to be repeated over and over until the root cause of the problem becomes apparent.

Example:

Following is an example of the 5 Whys analysis as an effective problem-solving technique:

  1. Why is our client, Coproration X., unhappy? Because we did not deliver our services when we said we would.
  2. Why were we unable to meet the agreed-upon timeline or schedule for delivery? The job took much longer than we thought it would.
  3. Why did it take so much longer? Because we underestimated the complexity of the job.
  4. Why did we underestimate the complexity of the job? Because we made a quick estimate of the time needed to complete it, and did not list the individual stages needed to complete the project.
  5. Why didn’t we do this? Because we were running behind on other projects. We clearly need to review our time estimation and specification procedures.

Key Points:

The 5 Whys strategy is an easy and often-effective tool for uncovering the root of a problem. Because it is so elementary in nature, it can be adapted quickly and applied to most any problem. Bear in mind, however, that if it doesn’t prompt an intuitive answer, other problem-solving techniques may need to be applied.

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