The 5 Whys methodology is a great problem-solving technique that anyone can employ.
Although it’s not intended to be the end all and cure all, it is a technique I suggest you use to help solve the very next problem you face. It involves asking “why” over and over again until you get to the root of the reason the problem happened. Once you know the root cause, the solution is often much more clear.
By the way, if you have a young child nearby, you don’t really have to read this article. Just ask them why they are always asking “why” and you will know the secret.
Note the simple method I am going to tell you about is called the 5 Whys technique, but that does not mean you will arrive at the core after asking why five times. You will be asking “why” or “what caused this to happen” as many times as needed.
You may get frustrated answering your child with more and more clarity, but eventually the child will be satisfied. That’s because the answer finally makes sense to them. It is the same result we are after here.
Ask Why until you are satisfied you are at the core of the problem. Once you have identified the heart of the matter…solve that!
An example of the 5 Whys Technique in action…
Let’s examine an example which will illustrate the efficacy of the technique:
Q – Why did our proposed deal with our vendor Willis Corp blow up?
A – We did not deliver all the documents they requested on time.
Q – Why did we fail to complete the document production we committed to turn over to them?
A – Because we simply ran out of time.
Q – What caused this lack of time?
A – We underestimated the detail level of documentation the vendor wanted from us.
Q – Why did we fail to understand the request’s complex nature?
A – We thought it would be similar to other requests from other vendors. We based our time estimate on our experience and failed to listen completely to what we were being asked to do.
Q – What can we do to prevent this outcome in the future?
A – We can engage in a complete communications loop discussion until both parties understand what is requested and what delivery time is reasonable.
Here’s the bottom line with the 5 Whys Technique
Most children are looking for an answer that makes sense to them. If they don’t get it with the first question, they keep asking in a slightly different way until they are satisfied.
Frankly, it can get annoying. But, your objective is to identify the problem, find out what the root cause of it is; and, put a solution in place.
In summary, this tool is simple, easy to understand and fairly quick to employ. Use it first, if you can get to a satisfactory solution with it, fine. If you can not, you may need to employ a more sophisticated method.