Ask “Why” Five Times: The Technique

The Five Why’s is a troubleshooting technique developed as a part of the move to Just-in-Time production at Toyota Motor Company in the early 1970’s. The approach uses a systematic questionnaire technique to search for root causes of a problem. Utilize the tool by asking “why?” at least five times as you work through various levels of detail. Once it becomes difficult to respond to “why?” the probable cause of the problem may have been identified. As you trace the “whys?” back to their root cause, you will find yourself confronting issues that affect not only the original symptom, but also the entire organization.

To apply the Five Why’s effectively, gather a team where each individual have personal knowledge of the processes and systems involved in the problem being discussed. After this is done, develop the problem statement in agreement. Then ask the first “why” to the team: why is this or the problem taking place? There will probably be three or four sensible answers: record them all on a flip chart or whiteboard, or use index cards taped to a wall.

Ask four more successive “whys,” repeating the process for every statement on the flip chart, whiteboard, or index cards. Post each answer near to its “parent” and make sure you follow up on all plausible answers. You will have identified the root cause when asking “why” yields no further useful information. Among the dozen or so answers obtained from the last asked “why”, look for systemic causes of the problem.

Discuss these and settle on the most likely systemic cause. Follow the team session with a debriefing and show the product to others to confirm that they see logic in the analysis. After settling on the most probable root cause of the problem and obtaining confirmation of the logic behind the analysis, develop appropriate corrective actions to remove the root cause from the system. The actions can be undertaken by others but planning and implementation will benefit from team inputs.

To achieve optimal results with most problem-solving teams, strong facilitation assistance is generally required. It is very important to keep the team on target and avoid diversions. Another challenge involves the nature of environmental issues. Waste can occur in many places, and there are many different causes that can lead to the problems associated with managing it. The Five Whys alone may not be able to sort these causes out.

Information and conclusion drawn from Asprova’s advanced planning and scheduling functions can be incorporated into the Five Whys tool. This action will help to initiate a thinking process and lead the team to a deeper understanding of the issue that they seek to confront. Once the root cause has been exposed, suitable corrective action can be implemented by our software to remove the problem permanently.


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