byTelkom26-11-201511:22 AM - edited 26-11-201511:23 AM
In running a business, you will encounter many problems that you must negotiate. Sometimes these problems tend to re-occur, despite your best efforts to solve them. Re-occurring issues are generally a symptom of a deeper underlying issue that must be resolved first before you will be able to move your business forward.
The ‘Five Whys’ is a simple and effective technique designed to determine the root cause of a problem. This question-asking method is used to explore the cause and effect relationship that underlies a particular problem, and by drilling down into the layers until the business process flaw is identified. The ‘5’ is the approximate number of iterations normally required to resolve the issue.
The ‘5 Whys’ technique
The ‘5 Whys’ technique was first introduced at the Toyota Motor Company to find solutions to manufacturing problems. They realised that by asking the question ‘Why?’ continuously around a specific problem, they would generally get to the root cause in five attempts.
By asking ‘why’ several times, whether it’s five or 15, the focus will be directed to the actual cause so that the problem can be solved permanently. It is most effective when the answers come from people who are on the ground and actively engage with the process.
How to complete the 5 Whys
Write down the specific problem. This will help in formalising the problem.
Ask why the problem happens and write the answer down below the problem. Each time you ask the question look for an answer that takes into account things that have actually happened, not events that might have happened.
If the answer you just provided doesn’t identify the root cause of the problem that you wrote down in step 1, ask why again and write that answer down.
Repeat step 3 until the team is in agreement that the problem’s root cause is identified. At this point, an appropriate counter-measure should have been created.
Problem: Despite the positive feedback that Vespa South Africa was receiving, the business was failing to transact with their customers. They needed to ask why from their market as well as their sales teams.
Why? Why do you love the brand but aren’t buying it?
Potential customers said that they would probably only use the Vespa if they were living in Cape Town. They couldn’t associate using the scooter in Johannesburg.
Why? Do you ride?
70% of potential customers responded no.
Why? Why not?
Most didn’t know how to ride a scooter, others were worried about road safety, travelling on the highway, and the theft of their bags.
Why? For the 30% who could ride, they asked why aren’t you buying a Vespa?
This then opened up a number of reasons, such as financing, motor bike licensing, approval from family members.
The fifth ‘why’ Vespa reserved for the sales reps to answer
Why? Did you sell a scooter this week? If not, why not?
Counter-measures: Vespa introduced riding lessons (for free), and brushed up on the road safety stats, which they shared with media. They actively began educating the market around Vespas being safe. Sales teams were given additional information to work with to convert leads into sales.
When to use this approach
This technique can be used to troubleshoot ongoing problems, improve the quality of processes and help with team problem solving. It is best used for solving simple to moderately difficult problems.
For more complex problems, this approach may result in a more single track line of enquiry which might mean ignoring multiple causes for the problem. A wider-ranging method like the Cause and Effect Analysis might be more effective in dealing with complex issues.
The ‘5 Whys’ is effective, however, in that it can quickly direct you to the root cause of the problem, so that you can effectively resolve the issue and avoid its reoccurrence.
The ‘5 Whys’ technique is an effective way to get to the root cause of a problem quickly. It offers the following benefits:
Simple: It is easy to use and requires no advanced tools.
Effective: It helps to quickly separate symptoms from causes and identify the root cause of a problem.
Flexible: It works well on its own and also when combined with other quality improvement and troubleshooting techniques.
Promotes engagement: By its very nature, it fosters and produces teamwork and teaming within and outside the organisation.
Inexpensive: It is a guided, team-focused exercise. There are no additional costs.