Tuesday, December 15, 2009


THE root cause of a problem is seldom the first idea that you come up with. So you end up struggling with what types of problem-solving techniques to use (there are MANY). The 5 Whys is a simple technique that helps you get to the root of the problem quickly. It simply involves looking at any problem and asking, "Why?" The answer to the first "why" will prompt another "why", and the answer to the second "why" will prompt another, and so on. This is pretty much where the name 5 Whys comes from. Duh. Pretty simplistic.

Like I said, it’s easy. Start at the problem and work backwards to find the root cause, continually asking, "Why?" Repeat it over and over until the root cause of the problem becomes apparent. It’s kind of like trying to explain something to a kid – “You have to go to bed.” “Why?” “Because it’s time.” “Why?” Yadda-yadda-yadda. You get the picture.

Here’s an example:
1. Why is our client ready to drop us? Because we didn’t deliver our product when we said we would.
2. Why didn't we deliver our product when we said we would? The job took much longer than we thought it would.
3. Why did the job 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 didn’t list all the steps needed to get it done.
5. Why did we make such a quick estimate? Because we were running behind on other projects and didn’t clearly review our time estimation and procedures.

From there you can make plans to ensure that no matter how behind you’re running you have a process in place to properly plan and review time estimations and procedures.

The 5 Whys is an easy and quick tool for uncovering the root of a problem. Because it’s so elementary, it can be adapted quickly and applied to most any problem, AND by most ANYONE. Keep in mind though, that if it doesn't get you a decent answer, there are many other problem-solving techniques you can choose from. The 5 Whys just happens to be my personal favorite.

No comments: