Why, Why, Why, Why, Why…..


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Have you ever heard of the 5 Whys?

The 5 Whys is a questions-asking method used to explore the cause/effect relationships underlying a particular problem, with the goal of determining a root cause of a defect or problem (source).

The 5 Whys methodology was developed by Sakichi Toyoda and is delivered as part of the Toyota Production System (a composition of management techniques and philosophies). Taiichi Ohno who was the architect of the Toyota Production System, described the 5 Whys method as “the basis of Toyota’s scientific approach . . . by repeating why five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.

So what is so special about the 5 Whys that I have bother to write about it. Simple…it’s simple. And it can also highly effective.

Below is a very basic example that I have put together to demonstrate the 5 Whys methodology in action.

Imagine you had just finalized delivery of your product to a customer. However the product arrived 3 days late. To find out why the product arrived late you decide to undertake a 5 Why analysis.

Step Reason Why
1 The stock arrived 3 days late. Why did this happen?
2 Because a Purchase Order was placed 1 week late with the supplier. Why was the Purchase Order place 1 week late?
3 Because  the financial feasibility / forecast was delayed. Why was the financial feasibility / forecast delayed?
4 Because the Product Team were held up by the Marketing team on what was to be advertised Why was Marketing holding up the product team?
5 Because the Marketing team were not aware that their decision impacted the Purchase Order time line Why was Marketing not aware of their role in the Purchase Order time line?
Because the business did not have a clearly articulated business calendar or process map that highlighted key stakeholders involvement in the decision making process.

In this example we see the issue moving from a late delivery to roles and and responsibilities within a defined process.

Clearly not all issues will have exactly 5 Whys. There may be 4, there may be 7. However it is generally accepted that 5 Whys later usually highlights the root cause.

In part because of its simplicity the 5 Whys have been criticized. Indeed Teruyuki Minoura, former managing director of global purchasing for Toyota, has stated that the tool was too basic in analyzing root causes to the depth that is needed to ensure that they are fixed.

Acknowledging the 
criticism I still remain a fan of the 5 Whys methodology. As I said before it is simple! Additionally, because it forces the participants to keep asking questions it helps drive a better understanding of problem solving particularly when identifying root cause issues. Rather than employees accepting an issue at face value the methodology essentially does away with  the notion of “face value” and replaces the issues with a deeper understanding of a specific problem.

As I have stated on numerous occasions, there are a plethora of management tools available to the business sector. Utilise these tools at your own discretion but remember if you do not ask the right questions you will not find the right answers. Unless of course you believe your business can run on good luck. In that case, good luck!

Craig Padoa
Having been exposed to a multitude of consultancies, spreadsheet jockeys, strategic models and technologies, I subscribe to the quote by Sir Winston Churchill, "However beautiful the strategy, one should occasionally look at the results."


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