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Problem solving in a business setting - 5 Whys

​One of the traits for an outstanding business manager is to have great problem solving skills. We face issues everyday and find ourselves with the tedious tasks of solving them. Unfortunately, sometimes this problem comes back to bite us. Recurrent problems are often symptoms of deeper issues and need a greater understanding rather than a simple 'quick fix'.

To solve them properly, you can use the 5-Why’s analysis. The 5-whys is a method of root cause analysis use to determine what 'the core' problem is, by asking sequential causes of a failure and peeling the layers of symptoms which can lead to the root of the problem.

Even though the technique is called the 5 whys, five is a rule of thumb and you may ask more or fewer whys prior to uncovering the main cause.

Benefits of the 5 Whys

  • Help to identify the main issue faster.

  • Determines the relationship between the different causes of the problem.

  • A simple tool allowing you to find answers without any statistical tool.

  • Helps organizations to have a more proactive approach to problems. This can be used along with other tools to improve performance i.e. fishbone diagram (also called Cause & Effect diagram or Ishikawa diagram) to increase effectiveness.

When is 5 Whys Most Useful?

  • When problems involve human interactions

  • To reduce waiting time on business processes

  • It can be used to save time and money on the day to day business environment.

How to Complete the 5 Whys

  • Writing the issue helps you have a clearer perspective and describe it fully.

  • Ask why and write the answer to the question below.

  • Continue asking why and writing down the answer until there’s no more questions to be asked. By refusing to be satisfied with each answer you increase the odds of finding the core problem.

5 Whys Example: An employee had an accident at the factory.


Because a piece of metal accidentally fell into his eye.

Why did the metal fell on his eye?

Because he was not wearing the adequate PPE(safety glasses).

Why wasn’t he wearing the appropriate PPE?

Because it wasn’t clearly established that use of PPE was necessary for his role.

Why wasn’t it established?

Because of a risk assessment failure for this position.

The 5-Whys method is very useful, but it requires real evidence, logic and great discipline in its use. If you want to find the main problem that led to failure, always look for factual proof when performing this analysis to obtain a more accurate result. This will make it easier to cut off the root of the problem and avoid recurrence in the future.