The 5 Whys is a technique used in engineering, but has almost universal application-especially when human factors or interaction are involved.
By repeatedly asking the question “Why” (five is a good rule of thumb), you can peel away the layers of symptoms which can lead to the root cause of a problem. Very often the ostensible reason for a problem will lead you to another question. Although this technique is called “5 Whys,” you may find that you will need to ask the question fewer or more times than five before you find the issue related to a problem.
How to Complete the 5 Whys…
- Write down the specific problem. Writing the issue helps you formalize the problem and describe it completely. It also helps a team focus on the same problem.
- Ask “Why” the problem happens and write the answer down below the problem.
- If the answer you just provided doesn’t identify the root cause of the problem that you wrote down in Step 1, ask “Why” again and write that answer down.
- Loop back to step 3 until the team is in agreement that the problem’s root cause is identified. Again, this may take fewer or more times than five “Whys.”
Problem Statement: You are on your way home from work and your car stops in the middle of the road.
1. Why did your car stop?
– Because it ran out of gas.
2. Why did it run out of gas?
– Because I didn’t buy any gas on my way to work.
3. Why didn’t you buy any gas this morning?
– Because I didn’t have any money.
4. Why didn’t you have any money?
– Because I lost it all last night in a poker game.
5. Why did you lose your money in last night’s poker game?
– Because I’m not very good at “bluffing” when I don’t have a good hand.
Quote to remember:
“If you don’t ask the right questions, you don’t get the right answers. A question asked in the right way often points to its own answer. Asking questions is the ABC of diagnosis. Only the inquiring mind solves problems.” ~Edward Hodnett
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