5-Why is one of the most recognized problem solving tools. The intent is to ask several Why questions to reveal a more thorough explanation of how and why a particular incident occurred. The concept is simple, but application varies substantially. Different groups within the same company don't necessarily conduct a 5-Why the same way. The tool is widely misinterpreted and misused. There isn't a clear understanding of fundamentally what a 5-Why is and when it's supposed to be used.

Significant opportunity exists for management and front line personnel to improve the way they explain the details of an incident. Miscommunications add to the risk. Some managers don't use 5-Why, because they see it as too simplistic for complex issues. Other managers have a strict interpretation that the fifth Why reveals the root cause. A common criticism of 5-Why is that it's not repeatable because three different people each get a different 5-Why. When people know different aspects of an issue they're not supposed to get the same 5-Why. That flawed premise contributes to the decades-long confusion about the tool.

These simple misunderstandings are symptomatic of other managerial disconnects in a company. What should be a baseline to begin an accurate cause-and-effect analysis has become a starting point for debate. These disagreements undermine a cooperative dialogue between frontline employees and management.

Simple changes in the way an organization uses 5-Why improves the way people communicate detail and ultimately prevent problems. This presentation will explain the basics of 5-Why and provide several examples of how management can affect front line problem solving as well as how the front line can affect management.

5-Why Basics

Asking Why five times has a long history within Toyota. Before Toyota entered the automobile industry in 1933, it made looms to produce fabric. Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota, built his first wooden hand loom in 1890 (Toyota Boshoku). He is credited with developing the 5- Why discipline within the company.

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