The 5 Whys – Digging deep into the root cause of the problem

Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. Answering “Why” gets you to the root cause of the problem. It allows you to go beyond the obvious answers and solve things on a deeper level. It is the key to your business.

Though this exercise might sound simple, but it requires thought and intelligent application in order to find the right Why? questions to ask, as well as the discipline and persistence to follow the method.

This exercise requires a lot of practice. But the more you use and apply it and the more you practice it, the more you’ll begin to find the real underlying (root) causes of problems. This method is extremely valuable and powerful to get you started.

On successfully completing this exercise, you will be able to:

  • Establish links between the root causes and surface problems with little required preparation
  • Gain an understanding of complex issues
  • Classify problems and solutions as either internal or external

Case Example:

Teemium is a technological platform that bridges the gap between college students and companies in terms of job opportunities. For the students, it aims to find a job as per their skills, abilities and career choice and for the companies it helps to get the right candidate for the right job.

Problem Statement: Only 20% of the candidates are hired through campus placement

Why?       Because it is difficult to connect with colleges
Why?       Poor response from colleges
Why?       Lack of placement management system
Why?      The college management cannot make the team accountable for placements
Why?       The team is not incentivize appropriately

Action: Define your 5 Whys!

Dig down deep into what the actual reasons are for a problem or what the problem actually is. You can start on the following lines to get your 5 Whys

  • Define the problem. Write down the identified problem to focus on possible solutions.
  • Ask “Why” did the problem happen? Write the possible answer
  • Again ask “Why” addressing the possible answer that you have written for the previous Why?
  • Repeat it for 5-6 times till you get to the root of the problem
  • Tip: Always write the first thing that come to you mind each time you ask “Why”

Make a copy using Google Docs-> File->Make a copy option. Start with your 5 Whys using the below mentioned format.

Additional Tips:

  • Don’t jump to a solution when presented with a problem
  • Look at the big picture and improve your ability to arrive at the root cause
  • Analyze the results and form relationships between answers
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