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How Asking 5 Questions Will Help You Solve Your Problems

May 1, 2017


This scene should be familiar to many of us: there’s a problem at work that no one has the time or energy to address.  The team may resort to quick fixes, but it is rare for those solutions to fix the real cause.  Luckily, there is a simple process called the 5 Whys that effectively resolves the simple or mildly difficult problems that recur on the job.  The process works by asking “why?” five times to discover the root cause of an issue.  Eventually a counter-measure will arise that the team can implement to prevent the situation from arising again.


Here are the key steps:


Step 1: Pull together a knowledgeable team.


These people should have hands-on experience of the process being examined.  If you don’t have the right team, you will spend too much time researching the answers to each “Why?”.


Step 2. Define the Problem


After discussing the circumstances with your team, write a clear and concise issue statement so you know where to focus your energy.


Step 3. Ask “Why?” five (5) times


Frame the question each time in response to the previous answer. It’s important for the answers to be grounded in facts so that you create an accurate drill down process.  It’s best to move on to the next Why as quickly as possible so that you avoid premature jumps to conclusions.


Step 4: Stop Asking “Why?”


At some point, there aren’t any more useful answers to the question “why?”.  When you reach that point, it is time to stop asking why and start working on your counter-measures.


Step 5: Take Action


You have the root cause, now it’s time to implement the appropriate measures that will prevent the problem from occurring again.  Remember to monitor your measures to ensure you get the right results.



Test the 5 Whys on yourself!

The 5 Whys works in your personal life as well.  Make a note to try the method this week.  When you notice an issue (i.e. financial problems), use the 5 whys to drill down to the root cause.  From there you can course-correct and implement a game plan that will help you achieve the results or outcomes you desire.

5 Whys Diagram: