How the “5 Why’s” method helps solve problems at their source

At Absolut Systems, our mission is to deliver solutions that not only meet, but exceed our clients’ expectations. One of the key tools that helps us keep this promise is the 5 Whys method – a simple yet incredibly effective process of root cause analysis. It allows us to not only identify and solve current problems but also prevent them from occurring in the future.

The 5 Whys method has its roots in the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen, which is all about continuous improvement. It was popularized by Toyota as part of their production system, but its universality makes it a perfect fit for our culture as well. At Absolut Systems, we use this method to dig deep into the root causes of problems, rather than focusing solely on their symptoms.

The 5 Whys method is essentially child’s play, and it’s no coincidence that we use that term. It came about during endless discussions between Japanese engineer Kaoru Ishikawa and his daughter. The determined 3-year-old pestered her father with “why” questions until she got a satisfactory answer. That’s the background story, but the general public is more familiar with the 5 Whys as implemented in the production process of automotive giant Toyota, which ultimately streamlined all processes in the company. It was then introduced into the Toyota corporation on a permanent basis as a practical element of problem solving. This fits perfectly with the kaizen concept, which originated in Japan. Like kaizen, the 5 Whys technique is simple in form and incredibly effective. Its goal is to identify the root cause of a problem. The success of this method lies in asking the right questions to find the source of the problem, rather than focusing on the effects, which is ultimately fruitless.

Taiichi Ohno, the creator of the Toyota Production System in the 1950s, refers to the 5 Whys in his book “Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production” as “the foundation of Toyota’s scientific approach by asking the question ‘why’ five times, through which the essence of the problem and its solution become clear.” The Japanese man inspired his team to deeply understand each problem until they found its root cause. He recommended constant observation of the production process and asking the question “why” as often as possible. It is worth noting that in this method, the number 5 is rather arbitrary, and it is recommended to ask further questions if the root cause has not been fully discovered.

Today, this method is not only used by Toyota, but has also gained popularity in the area of lean development. The lean methodology is based on the lean management strategy, which focuses on developing customer-oriented solutions – i.e. those that provide real value for the customer, making them willing to pay a specific price and even recommend the product or service. The opposite of value is waste, which lean helps to identify and effectively eliminate. The key here is to maintain a smooth flow of tasks, operations and production.

In relation to companies, and especially startups, the 5 Whys technique should be used after every unexpected event, in order to extinguish so-called “fires” as early as possible.

It can be applied in every area of the company, from production and engineering to customer service and marketing. This process works regardless of whether the problem is technical or more related to human aspects.

It is important to emphasize that the goal of the 5 Whys method is not to blame each other or point out mistakes, but rather to identify the root cause of an unexpected situation. In addition, this technique helps the team develop small, incremental steps to prevent the same problem from happening again (to anyone).

How It Works in Practice

The process begins with defining the problem that needs attention. Then, in the spirit of open discussion, we encourage the team to ask the question “why?” at least five times. This allows us to trace the path from the effects to the root cause of the problem. Here’s how we implement this method step by step:

  • Step 1 – We encourage participation: Every member of the team, regardless of position, is invited to participate in the discussion. We believe that diversity of perspectives enriches the analysis.
  • Step 2 – We choose a session mentor: The mentor, who can be any of us, regardless of position, leads the conversation, asking key questions and collecting answers.
  • Step 3 – We ask “why?”: We ask the question “why?” at least five times to thoroughly explore every aspect of the problem.
  • Step 4 – We assign responsibilities: After the analysis session is complete, we develop and assign specific corrective actions.
  • Step 5 – We communicate the results: The results of our discussions are always transparently communicated throughout the company, ensuring everyone understands the steps taken.

Sounds interesting? The 5WHY method is a simple but powerful problem-solving technique that can help you get to the root cause of any issue. It's easy to use and can be applied to any situation. Want to give it a try in your team?​

If so, we would be happy to show you how to implement the 5 WHY method in practice, quickly and effectively. We have developed our own proprietary technique for effective problem solving, which helps to increase productivity and generate new, creative solutions – contributing to corporate innovation.

During a workshop dedicated to your company, your team will learn how to:

  • Quickly identify the real causes of problems and eliminate them at the source.
  • Stimulate creative thinking within the team and generate innovative solutions.
  • Implement effective strategies and increase the company’s productivity.

Our workshops are:

  • Practical and interactive sessions where you will gain knowledge and skills that you can use immediately in your work.
  • A unique perspective on problem solving, inspired by the Kaizen philosophy.
  • An opportunity to exchange experiences with other participants and Absolut Systems experts.

Take advantage of a free consultation:

Schedule a meeting with our expert to learn more about the 5 Why method and its potential benefits for your company. We will help you assess the needs of your team and propose a suitable workshop program.

Whether you:

  • Are taking your first steps on the road to innovation,
  • Are looking for ways to optimize existing processes,
  • Want to build a culture of effective problem solving,

Absolut Systems’ 5 Why Method Workshops are for you!

Invest in the future of your company and contact us today!

I'm happy to answer your questions

Innovation strategist

Katarzyna Kowaluk

Read also

Contact us

Scroll to Top