Ever had something go wrong and couldn’t figure out why? It might be simply because you haven’t traced the problem back to its roots. All you need to start with is a simple question: “Why?”

You ask “Why?” five times (or as many as needed) to get to the bottom of the problem. Let’s say your sales dropped this quarter. Why? Maybe your website was down a lot. Why was it down? You find out your server keeps crashing. And why is that? Turns out it’s overloaded. See the pattern? You keep digging until you hit that “Aha!” moment.

So grab a cup of coffee, gather your team, and get ready to ask “Why?” like a curious toddler. We’ll also introduce you to Wrike, the most powerful work management software that top organizations like Fitbit and Walmart Canada have used to save their teams from many headaches. It’s time to become the problem-solving hero your company needs. Let’s get to it! 

Find out how Wrike can help your business stay on top of its game start your free trial now.

Understanding the 5 Whys technique

The 5 Whys method is a powerful and straightforward approach to root cause analysis used in various industries worldwide. It focuses on asking why a problem happened and then repeating “Why?” four more times until you find the main cause.  

Imagine you’re running late because your car won’t start. You could scream, “Why today?!” and leave it at that. But what if you asked “Why?” five times to figure it out? First, “Why?” The battery is dead. “Why?” The lights were left on. Keep going until you realize it’s because there’s no reminder chime when you leave the lights on. Bingo! You’ve found something fixable.

That’s the 5 Whys technique in a nutshell. It’s disarmingly simple. You start with a problem and ask “Why?” repeatedly until you unearth the root cause. 

The origin of the 5 Whys method

Developed in the 1930s, the 5 Whys method was first used in the Toyota Motor Corporation’s manufacturing process to identify the underlying cause of mechanical issues affecting its production. To find the main cause of a problem and avoid similar issues later, the team repeated the same question multiple times: “Why?” This process helped them discover and fix problems effectively. 

Since then, the 5 Whys method has been adopted by organizations across various sectors and industries, including healthcare, finance, and technology. It has proven to be an effective tool for improving processes and identifying underlying issues that may have gone unnoticed.

The purpose of the 5 Whys technique

You know those “D’oh!” moments when the solution was right under your nose all along? That’s the sweet spot the 5 Whys technique aims for. 

The 5 Whys technique serves two primary purposes. First, it reveals the root cause of the problem, which helps organizations eliminate the cause and implement solutions that will prevent future occurrences. Second, the method encourages problem solving by bringing cross-functional teams together to address issues. This technique allows organizations to better understand each issue and develop more effective solutions by involving people from different departments.

And speaking of effective solutions, integrating tools like Wrike’s Calendar view and Board view into your problem-solving process can significantly enhance the effectiveness of the 5 Whys technique. With the Calendar view, you can easily track when each step of the process needs attention and see what other teams are working on to ensure alignment. Meanwhile, with its Kanban-style layout, the improved Board view allows you to effortlessly move tasks to widgets to update the status of your investigations, track the progress of key projects, and pinpoint any overdue tasks.  

Wrike's Kanban Board View

How the 5 Whys method improves problem-solving skills

You don’t just spot a problem and throw a Band-Aid on it. You need to get to the core, repeatedly asking the same question until you hit the source. The 5 Whys method improves problem solving by helping teams think critically and systematically as they break down complex problems into manageable components and identify the underlying reasons for a problem. 

The strategy also allows teams to understand the relationship between different factors contributing to the problem. Team members can address underlying issues rather than just treating the symptoms. Instead of getting winded and giving up after the first hurdle, you learn to keep digging. Each “Why?” is a step deeper, and you build up the endurance to not settle for surface-level answers.

Once your team identifies problems using the 5 Whys technique, Wrike is the perfect platform for creating and implementing plans to solve these problems. For example, look at how Frontline Education used Wrike to get more done in less time. Its team saw a remarkable improvement in their work process with Wrike. “Wrike has been able to bring finance, marketing, CS, operations, and IT all together in one system,” says Sean Amster. This unified approach allowed for seamless communication and collaboration across departments, improving their problem-solving abilities. He adds:

“We do more, and we do it faster. Projects that used to take us eight days now take us only five. We’ve also been able to handle about 80 more projects per quarter. That’s a 20% increase in workload that marketing can take on because of Wrike.”

It’s clear that by employing the right tools and methods, like the 5 Whys technique and Wrike, organizations can significantly enhance their ability to solve problems and improve their overall productivity.

The 5 Whys root cause analysis template: A step-by-step guide

To implement the 5 Whys method effectively, it’s essential to follow a structured process. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

Step 1: Define the problem

Define the problem clearly, as this will set the stage for the rest of the process. Identify the issue you need to solve, what it relates to, and which stakeholders it affects. This will help you focus on the questions you will ask later. 

If you’re working in a manufacturing plant, the problem could be a machine that keeps breaking down, causing delays in production. The stakeholders affected could be the production team, the maintenance team, and the clients who are waiting for the products.

Here’s how you tackle it:

  • Get specific.  
  • Talk to the folks involved.  
  • Get your facts straight.
  • Collect any data or records related to the problem.
  • Make a clear statement that sums up the problem.  
  • Double-check to confirm if it’s the real deal.  

Step 2: Ask “Why?” until you identify the root cause

Ask yourself why the problem occurred. Answer it, then ask it again for each answer to the previous question. You want to build up the underlying reasons for the original problem and repeat this process until the root cause is identified. 

A typical example of a 5 Whys sequence is:

  • Why did the machine break down?  
  • Why was the lubricant insufficient?  
  • Why did the machine not receive enough lubrication?  
  • Why was the system not corrected?  
  • Why did technicians not follow the manual?  

As you can see, the 5 Whys method helps you dig deeper into the problem and identify the underlying causes. In this example, the root cause needs to be more effective training for maintenance technicians.

Step 3: Analyze the root cause

You’ve asked “Why?” many times, and now you’re staring at the root of the problem. This step helps you make sense of what you’ve uncovered. You’ve peeled back the layers, and there it is — the core issue causing all the fuss.

Here’s how to dive deep without getting lost:

  • Connect the dots. 
  • Think of solutions, not problems.  
  • Get a second opinion. 
  • Write it down.

If the machine breaks down because technicians weren’t trained properly, figure out why the training wasn’t good enough. Is it because the training materials are outdated or not comprehensive enough? Or is it because the trainers aren’t skilled enough to complete the training effectively? Once you have identified the reasons, you can develop a plan to address the root cause.

Step 4: Implement corrective actions

Based on the underlying root cause analysis, develop practical and impactful solutions to eliminate the cause of the original problem. You should also reflect on how to prevent future occurrences of the same issue. 

Implementing corrective actions is where your findings turn into tangible improvements. You make those big or small adjustments that help prevent the problem from happening again.  

Real-world examples of the 5 Whys problem-solving technique

Here are three real-world examples of how the 5 Whys technique can be used to solve problems:

Example 1: Manufacturing defect

A toy manufacturer notices an uptick in customer complaints about a popular toy car. it’s getting feedback like, “My kid’s car broke on day one!” Not great for business, right? Let’s look at how the company can tackle this with the 5 Whys technique.

  • Why are customers complaining about toy cars? Because the wheels on the cars break easily.
  • Why do the wheels break easily? The plastic used in the wheels isn’t strong enough.
  • Why isn’t the plastic strong enough? The supplier changed the plastic composition to cut costs.
  • Why did the supplier change the plastic composition without informing us? There was no requirement for the supplier to communicate material changes.
  • Why wasn’t there a requirement for communication on material changes? The contract with the supplier didn’t specify this need.

Boom! There it is. The root cause wasn’t just the wheel or the plastic; it was a gap in the contract. In response, the team implemented a comprehensive template for all supplier contracts. This helped to prevent similar issues from occurring in the future.

Example 2: Customer complaint

Have you ever been to a restaurant where your order took forever? Frustrating, right? Let’s look at a similar scenario where a restaurant chain gets many complaints about slow service. They decide to whip out the 5 Whys technique to get to the bottom of this.

  • Why are customers complaining about slow service? Because their orders are taking too long to arrive.
  • Why are orders taking so long? The kitchen is backed up and can’t keep up with the demand.
  • Why can’t the kitchen keep up? They’re short-staffed, and the current layout slows down meal preparation.
  • Why are they short-staffed? They’ve had difficulty retaining kitchen staff due to low job satisfaction.
  • Why is job satisfaction so low among kitchen staff? The work environment is stressful and the equipment needs to be updated, making tasks more difficult than they need to be.

Aha! The root of the issue isn’t just the slow service; it’s deeper. It’s about staff retention, job satisfaction, the working environment, and the equipment. 

Example 3: Project delay

A project was delayed, causing frustration among stakeholders. The 5 Whys method showed that the cause of the delays was understaffing. The team continued to ask “Why?” until they uncovered that the root cause of the understaffing was a lack of clear project timelines and resource allocation.

So, the team created and implemented a new project management process that included clear timelines and resource allocation plans. The team also identified other areas where resource allocation could be improved and implemented changes to prevent future delays.

Tips for effective 5 Whys implementation

To successfully implement the 5 Whys method in your organization, consider the following tips: 

  • Use open communication and transparency during analysis to allow team members to share their thoughts freely without fear.  
  • Avoid blaming people or departments for the problem and instead focus on developing solutions that will resolve the issue.  
  • Use data to support your findings and validate root cause analysis results.
  • When you’ve successfully solved a problem, celebrate! It boosts morale and encourages everyone to engage in future problem-solving adventures.
  • Schedule check-ins to see how things are going.

How Wrike helps with the 5 Whys problem-solving process

Wrike, a versatile project management and collaborative platform, can play a valuable role in facilitating your 5 Whys root cause analysis practice.  Wrike allows users to create and assign tasks for each “Why?” question, ensuring accountability and collaboration among team members. You can gather and analyze insights from different viewpoints by sharing documents and collaborating in real time. 

With Wrike, you can use:

  • Dashboards to track each question and monitor progress on implementing solutions
  • Gantt charts to map out the timeline from problem identification to resolution
  • Kanban boards to move tasks through stages of investigation and action, ensuring everything gets noticed
  • Cross-tagging to ensure that insights from your 5 Whys analysis can be easily accessed and acted upon by all relevant stakeholders
  • Integrations to gather data, share findings, and collaborate on solutions without ever leaving the Wrike ecosystem

Using these features, Wrike transforms the 5 Whys from a basic questioning technique into a powerful problem-solving process.  

 Start your free two-week trial right away.

Note: This article was created with the assistance of an AI engine. It has been reviewed and revised by our team of experts to ensure accuracy and quality.

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