5 Whys is a useful tool in Root Cause Analysis, originally developed and used by Toyota. I realize that the eyes of at least half of you have glazed over but root cause analysis is just a fancy noun phrase describing a method you can use to solve problems, any problem. Wiki uses this example:
- My car will not start. (the problem)
- Why? The battery is dead. (first why)
- Why? The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
- Why? The alternator has broken beyond repair. (third why)
- Why? The alternator is well beyond its useful service life and has never been replaced. (fourth why)
- Why? I have not been maintaining my car according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, root cause)
Although the method has its own problems, you can use this to solve roadblocks and problems in your personal and professional life. The biggest problems I’ve seen in using the method are:
- Finger pointing, a focus on blame
- Limiting questions to symptoms
- Not knowing that you don’t know what you don’t know
Another criticism commonly leveled is that you can have several people asking/answering the 5 whys for the same problem and come up with completely different answers. I think that is a strength and an opening for discussion, a way to learn what you don’t know that you don’t know. Regardless, I still think it’s a useful tool to tackle problems. Do it honestly and you may find answers to questions that you either really don’t want to know or already knew but wanted to avoid or deny. I don’t know of any better self improvement tool. Mark’s 5 Whys survey is contextualized to the failure of lean obstacles but you can use it for anything. Start here.
I’m off to take the survey to see why I stubbornly insist on writing and publishing material like this that -judging from the dearth of comments- nobody reads or cares about.