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Is it Time to Tweak the 5-WHYs Analysis Technique? Yes!

Friday, October 29, 2021 3:33 PM | Laura Burford

How changing the form of your questions leads to more inclusive problem-solving and a friendlier approach for everyone.

A key reason why clients hire consultants and freelancers is to help them solve a problem.

As a consultant, one of my favorite approaches for problem-solving is Toyota’s 5 WHYs Analysis. I embraced 5 WHYs Analysis while managing software application projects and have continued to use it as a management consultant. However, over the years I’ve changed the form of my questions and I never realized it.

One day one of my clients said a meeting with one of their potential clients didn’t go well. Actually, it flopped.

In my work, I frequently recommend consultants and freelancers consider using 5-WHYs Analysis and recommend they include it in their “tool box.” But after talking with my client, I realized that I’ve been leading consultants and freelancers astray.

I’m now telling them, “I’ve been WRONG!

Am I saying that 5-WHYs Analysis is not a good technique? No, I’m not. It is an easy and powerful technique to use. However, I believe a modification in the form of the questions makes the approach more powerful and better accepted.

What is 5 WHYs Analysis?

5 WHYs Analysis works well when the symptoms of a problem are known but the cause or actual problem is not known. In theory, a person asks five (5) why questions continually diving down to uncover the root cause of the problem.

Here’s a scenario illustrating the technique. 

Your car doesn’t start so you call the car repair shop.

The Mechanic starts by asking you, “Why wouldn’t your car start?” Your Reply: “The engine wouldn’t turn over.”

Mechanic: “Why wouldn’t the engine turn over?” Your Reply: “The battery was drained.”

Mechanic: “Why was the battery drained?” Your reply: “I think I forgot to turn the lights off.”

Mechanic: “Why did you forget to turn the lights off?” Your reply: “I thought they would turn off automatically.”

Mechanic: “Why didn’t they turn off automatically?” Your reply: “I don’t know. They were set to turn on and off automatically.”

The 5 WHYs Analysis approach was developed by Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyota, to help Toyota Industries Corporation uncover manufacturing problems.  It works extremely well if there is a technical equipment problem or when a feature or functionality is missing as in a software application or with a business process.

The challenge is everyone involved in the analysis needs to evaluate the situation objectively putting their personal feelings aside.

That is why am I saying, “I’ve been WRONG!

Why I’ve been WRONG!

For the entire article that includes an example of how I recommend modifying your approach, click on this “friendly” link

Final Thoughts

Consultants and freelancers are problem-solvers.

That is why people hire them — to solve problems.

But before a consultant or freelancer can solve a problem, they need to determine the root cause of the problem. Understanding the root cause of the problem helps the consultant or freelancer get hired as well as assists with determining the right approach to solve the problem.

There are several ways to determine the root cause. One approach is to use 5 WHYs Analysis. However, before you use 5 WHYs Analysis you may want to modify the approach. Before you ask any questions, understand your client and determine the best questioning format for them. Do why questions work or would it be better to ask exploratory and explicit questions?

Yes, I’ve been WRONG! I believe this modification in question form leads to a more powerful and inclusive discovery as well as a friendlier and accepted approach for everyone involved.


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