How to Get to the Root Cause of Any Problem By Asking Why 5 Times


A decade or so ago I discovered a problem-solving technique that makes me look like a “rock-star” with my clients. The technique is so simple a 4-year old can do it; it always works, and it never ceases to amaze.

The technique is known as the 5 Why Technique and it was popularized by Toyota Production System in the 70’s and all you do is ask the question “why?” five times.

Here’s how you use the 5 Why Technique.

Take a problem, any problem, and ask why? Here’s an example:

1. Why do our agents perceive the quality monitoring process to be unfair? Because not every supervisor counts off or awards points for the same things.

2. Why don’t all supervisors award points consistently? Because the dimensions on our monitoring form are largely subjective and open to interpretation.

3. Why are the dimension viewed as “open to interpretation”? Because we’ve never taken the time to develop deliverables or specifics for each dimension. 

4. Why haven’t we taken the time to clearly define dimensions for our monitoring form/program? Because we were in a hurry to get a monitoring program in place and did not properly design and define all program components. 

5. Why were we in a hurry to get the monitoring program in place? Customer satisfaction surveys revealed an immediate need to improve service and we thought a formal monitoring program would give us better service results. Clearly we need to take the time re-think and re-design our monitoring program, including training our supervisors and clarifying dimensions, so that it is fair and consistent, then and only then can we improve customer service. 

The root cause of the problem of agents seeing the monitoring program as unfair is that the program was quickly thrown together. It really needs to be reviewed and re-designed in order to meet any objectives.

Isn’t that simple? The beauty of the 5-why technique is you get the synergy of a group working and the group remains fiercely focused on the problem at hand. When I use this technique with clients, my job is really easy. All I have to do is ask the five simple “why” questions and write the answers down. The group collectively ALWAYS discovers the root cause right there on the spot…which is why I always end up looking like a rock star!

The next time you’re trying to get to the root cause of a problem, give the 5 Why Technique a try. You’ll focus your intentions and move quickly toward the root cause of the problem.