How to Solve Any Problem Efficiently with 5 Whys (Step-By-Step Guide)

Do you take long to solve career or business problems?

Maybe you believe that you need to know 1000 techniques to solve problems faster. The truth is that there isn’t a single technique that can solve all your problems. But despite this reality, you can still solve most of your problems in an effective way.

How? By leveraging Sakichi’s 5 Whys technique. Sakichi used this technique for Toyota’s assembly line, but you can apply it to most of your problems.((Harvard Business Review: The Unimportance of Practically Everything))

So, stop trying to memorize dozens of techniques and get ready to work smarter. Here’s how to adopt the 5 Whys technique to solve problems:

Uncovering 5 Questions to Most Problems

With the 5 Why’s technique, you have to ask 5 questions.

Simple, right? Whenever you’re facing a problem ask what may have contributed to the current results. Then, continue asking 5 times or until you’ve found a root cause.

How do you know that this technique works? Well, Toyota has successfully implemented this technique to improve their assembly line. Now imagine what it can do to help you solve common problems.((Harvard Business Review: The Five Whys for Start-Ups))

The 5 Whys technique isn’t complex but it’ll take time to get used to. If you’re like most, you tend to jump at finding solutions when solving problems. Instead, start by asking one question each time you’re facing a problem.

It can be for anything minor such as being stuck in traffic. In this case, your first question would be why you didn’t avoid traffic. Ask a single question for all your problems, and continue adding more until you ask 5 by default.

Eventually, you’ll know when to ask the 5 Whys and find a root cause to most of your problems. But, you don’t have to always work alone. When you work with unfamiliar topics, work with a team to brainstorms answers.

For example, if you’re troubleshooting a bad marketing campaign for your business–work with your marketing team to find a solution. As a business owner, you’ll wear many hats but won’t be able to find a root cause to most of your problems alone.

How to Ask These 5 Questions Efficiently

Before you start asking the 5 Why’s, you need to prepare to get the best results. Here’s the flow process for solving a real-world problem:

1. Get the Right Resources

You don’t know what you don’t know. So, gather information through books and online resources before solving a problem. You’ll find yourself researching more often for topics you’ re not familiar with.

If you don’t prepare you’ll limit yourself to an ineffective root cause.

You can also surround yourself with people who specialize in certain areas. This way you can work together with your group to find the best root cause of a problem.

Your goal here is to feel comfortable with the questions you’re working with. Avoid answering questions you’re unsure of because you’ll most likely end up with a bad root cause.

2. Understand the Problem

Before you solve any problem, it’s important to know which problem you’re solving. This will help you avoid finding an irrelevant root cause.

By understanding your problem, you’d also avoid confusion when working with teams. For example, when working in teams, often it’s easy to assume that everyone is working on the same problem. But this isn’t always the case and can cause teams working to solve two different problems.

3. Ask Your First 5 Questions

Once you’ve spent enough time preparing, ask your first question. Instead of giving quick answers–brainstorm which answers will bring the most value. Each question depends on its predecessor, so give meaningful answers.

The rule of thumb here is to keep asking until you’ve found a potential root cause. Typically, 5 questions or less is enough to solve the most common problems. But, don’t limit yourself to 5 questions.

Instead, keep asking questions until you can’t anymore.

4. Find Your Root Cause

The main goal for using the 5 Why’s framework is to end up with a root cause for the issue you’re experiencing.

It’s also used to address high-level issues so that you can track your progress afterward. By addressing high-level issues, you’ll solve problems quicker before addressing the root cause.

The Proven Strategy in Action

Learning about the 5 Why’s framework is great but having real-world examples is better. Here’s an example you can use as a template for when you’re solving real-world problems:

Problem: Employers haven’t called me back for an interview for the past 3 months

  • Question 1: Why is my resume not getting noticed by employers?
    Because it’s too generic and not showing any special skills for the roles you’re applying to?
  • Question 2: Why is my resume too generic?
    Because I want it to appeal to many professions.
  • Question 3: Why do I want to apply to many professions?
    Because I want to increase my chances of getting hired.
  • Question4: Why would applying to several professions increase my odds at getting hired?
    Because I wouldn’t limit myself to available job openings at one specific profession.
  • Question 5: Why would I limit myself to job openings available?
    Because there is a high demand for my profession.

In this scenario, you’d stop at question 5 because you’ve found a potential root cause.

Since there’s a lot of competition for your industry, your resume needs to stand out. Who do you think an employer will hire, a jack of all trades or an expert in their profession?

Whenever you’re working with a problem, take time to brainstorm the best questions. That’s because it’ll impact the quality of the root cause you’ll end up with.

Potential Drawbacks to Using This Technique

Besides only solving simple problems, there are other areas where the 5 Whys falls short:

1. Unreplicable Results

You won’t be able to replicate the same results. Think about it, you’re creating your own questions and answering them in a unique way. No one else would be able to replicate your results for the most part.

This means that even two teams working in the same environment will come up with 2 separate answers.

2. Limited by the Knowledge Available

As mentioned before, gather enough information when solving an unknown problem. The problem is that you won’t always have the best resources available. Because of this, you’ll limit yourself to the quality of your answers.

If you’re ever facing an unknown topic, try a different problem-solving technique.

3. Focusing on a Single Root Cause

The main goal behind using the 5 Whys is to come up with a single root cause. But all problems don’t always have a single solution. For example, a marketing campaign can have a best, good, and worst case scenario.

These limitations don’t make the 5 Whys a bad technique to use. Instead, they let you know how to use this technique more effectively.

Don’t Rely on One Method to Solve Problems

As you’ve seen the 5 Whys isn’t complicated, but it takes a lot of effort to execute correctly. When done right, it can help you find the culprit to most of your common problems. The problem is that this technique isn’t suited for every situation.

The 5 Whys works best for improving processes and solving simple problems. But it falls short when working with complex problems. That’s why you’ll need to know other alternatives.

For example, a company’s low customer response rate may be due to several factors. In this case, you’d choose a technique that’s better suited to solve complex problems. Determine which problems you face the most to know which techniques will help you the most.

The good news is that the 5 Whys works with most simple problems everyone faces. So, be sure to master this technique before adopting others ones.

Be a Problem-Solving Machine

Imagine conquering issues most people give up on.

People would look at you and assume that you know 1000 ways to solve a problem. The truth is not much has changed since you’d struggled with solving problems.

But you’re now using a proven system that’s made your life easier.

You’re a problem-solving machine.

If you don’t believe this can be your reality, you’re wrong. You have what it takes to solve your problems, but you’ll need to practice. Start by asking one question today as you face a problem.

Then, keep doing the same until you’re asking several questions for each of your problems. You won’t master the 5 Whys technique overnight. But, with enough practice, this technique will feel more natural.

So, what’s stopping you now?

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