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Five Why’s to the Root

Five Why's to the Root

Five WhysEmployee: Our new client is unhappy.
Me: Why? (1)
Employee: Because we delivered the new brochure a week late
Me: Why? (2)
Employee: It took much longer to complete it than we originally thought.
Me: Why? (3)
Employee: We had to wait for data from the client.
Me: Why? (4)
Employee: Don’t know.  They didn’t answer our phone calls and they wouldn’t answer emails.
Me: Why? (5)
Employee: Well, it is their busy season so it’s understandable
Me: We should have realized our schedule wasn’t workable, given their busy season. [root cause]

The beauty of the five why’s. I’ve used the five why’s after a conversation with a 4 year old. Probed with his five why’s made me realize how useful that little 3-letter word really is. It gets you to the heart of things and helps to identify the root cause of a problem or situation.  Admittedly, the root cause can sometimes be identified in less than 5 why’s – and sometimes it takes more than 5.  But, 5 why’s is usually just right.

Now, I have to confess something.  I thought the five why’s was my idea.  It’s a good simple tool that works and I was proud to take ownership.  But, I didn’t realize that the five why’s have much more illustrious beginnings.   The technique was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and has been widely used within the Toyota Motor Corporation as part of their problem-solving training.  Additionally, Six Sigma claims the 5 why’s as their own but they usually refer to it as Root Cause Analysis Methodology.

All I can tell you is that the 5 why’s works.  Try it when you struggling to get at the root of a problem




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Susan has the keen ability to “know what customers need and want” in product designs and features, then translate these trends into plans for future development.

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