The Five Whys are a problem solving technique used in Operations Management.
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It is extremely effective in determining the root causes of problems that occur in any section of our business. The best part about this technique is its simplicity. It's as easy as asking five questions!
The method was created by Sakichi Toyoda and used by Toyota. It is still widely used and has been adopted as a part of the Six Sigma method.
While the Five Whys are not flawless, it's a creative way to get to the root cause behind your problems. You should try it out and see where it takes you.
When a problem occurs in your company, the only way to truly eliminate the problem is to find the cause and eradicate it. Using the Five Whys technique, you begin with the problem itself and ask once, why did this happen? This will lead to an answer, but not the cause.
You should ask a second time, why did this happen? You should repeat this process three more times and then you should have the root of the original problem. Sound confusing? Well here's a simple example to illustrate its effectiveness.
Let's say I missed a delivery to a customer. That is clearly a problem and I want to find the reason why I was late in delivery. I began with the first question,
Why was the delivery late? The answer: The delivery was late because we did not have the final box ready for shipment in time. While this resulted in the delivery being late, it was not the root of the problem, so we ask again.
Why was the final box not ready for shipment on time? The answer: The final box was not ready for shipment on time because we did not have the product for that part of the shipment on time. While this resulted in the final box not being ready, it is not the root of the original problem, so we ask again.
Why did we not have the product ready for the shipment? The answer: We did not have the product ready because we were waiting for raw material from our supplier. We still have not found the root of the problem, so we ask why again.
Why was the raw material delivered late? The answer: The raw material was delivered late because we did not place the order on time. We are almost to the root of the problem, so we ask why again.
Why did we not place the order on time? The answer: We did not place the order on time because the sales team forgot to give the purchasing department its order on time.
Theoretically we could continue to ask why, but we have now determined that our order was shipped late because the sales team forgot to give the purchasing department the sales order within a set timeframe. This resulted in the raw materials arriving late and the product not being ready to ship on time.
This simple example illustrates how continually asking why can bring us back to the root of a problem. By determining the cause of a problem, we can actively seek an effective solution and create a system that will not allow the problem to repeat. If a problem occurs in your company, don't let it go undetected.
Teach your employees how to become problem solvers and your company will be much better off.