The story behind this technique is really simple. Anyone who has kids already knows this, and if you do you probably smirked at such a situation at the shops one time or another. For some reason the older we get, the more we forget! Young wee kids don’t have their brains filled with visions of someone else who told them how the world should look like, how things should work. They simply don’t know lots yet, but they are naturally curious. In their young age, when there are no lessons (and, fortunately, sometimes even later on if they are encouraged to question the world), their way to find out can go this way:

Kiddo: Daaad, why can’t I use the cooker?
Dad: Because can burn yourself.
Kiddo: Daaad, why can I burn myself?
Dad: Because the flame is hot.
Kiddo: Daaad, why is the flame hooooot?
Dad: Because the gas flames get really hot.
Kiddo: Daddddyyyyy, and why…
Mom: Go ask your mommy!

Just kidding, hopefully, the last question doesn’t happen, as to not quelch your kid’s enthusiasm and inquisitiveness! But do you get the point? The more you ask, the deeper you dig, it gives you the better chance to arrive at the base problem, that can cause the other hurdles in a problem you’re solving. Looking under the surface, trying to understand what happened and what leads to a certain problem, are the keys to producing well-researched and applicable solutions.

So, summing up, why exactly you should use this technique (also in your non-work life, to understand other people, or why something in one country works the way it does):

1) You identify the symptoms, and only the problem itself.
Digging deep will help to see “the path of destruction” that might have led to the problem. You will uncover the underlying causes, rather than a band-aid, one-time solution.

2) You analyze the facts, not theories.
Don’t make educated guesses that can cloud the real situation. Focus on facts and actualities, staying true to reality. Always look for factual confirmation (i.e. do your research).

3) You eliminate the issues, not symptoms.
Instead of fixing the ad-hoc problem, eliminate its causes. Look for the ultimate source of the problem and eradicate it once and for all, preventing any reoccurrence.

4) You constantly improve.
Encourage analysis and understanding of the problem to have the power to face similar situations in the future. Inspire others to improve and adapt, consciously.

5) You build a culture of progress.
Promote a culture of no judgment, curiosity, and long-term solution (and, in extension, more return on investment). Support research in order to provide lasting results.

 

5 Whys
 

  • Tool goal: uncover true causes of a problem and move towards practical solutions
  • No of participants: 1 facilitator; group no limit (however, if the team is big, you may plan with separating it in smaller groups)
  • Time needed: max. 45 minutes (no time for long discussion)
  • Supplies needed: pieces of paper for notes (batch per group), pens

 

Walkthrough
 

  • Make sure that your group knows well enough what is problem that they need to solve. Make it clear and concise.
  • Identify and categorize the first possible cause(s) for that problem (1st why). Ask the participants to note down any supporting factual information.
  • Rate each cause based on the likelihood that it led to the problem.
  • Choose the top-rated cause and apply 2nd why (same as above).
  • Rate each cause based on the likelihood that it led to the problem.
  • Choose the top-rated cause and apply 3dr why (same as above).
  • Rate each cause based on the likelihood that it led to the problem.
  • Choose the top-rated cause and apply 4th why (same as above).
  • Rate each cause based on the likelihood that it led to the problem.
  • Choose the top-rated cause and apply 5th why (same as above).
  • Rate each cause based on the likelihood that it led to the problem.
  • Focus on the identified root cause and move towards solution-oriented problem-solving.

 

As a result…
 

  • You explored probable, actual causes that can influence the problem.
  • You have an array of various causes and if the top-identified cause doesn’t produce a logical solution, you have other factual options to explore.
  • All causes (and later solutions) are supported by real data.