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Why * 5

Currently, in my Online Education Strategies at University of the People (U of P), we are covering the 5 Whys technique.  I have also encountered the tool while a student at Northern Michigan University (NMU) and have used it at work a few times.

I think it is a simple and great technique that even the most brain dead of managers can use. Simple, powerful, and effective.

The technique involves the following steps:

  1. Stating the problem
  2. Asking why?
  3. Asking why?
  4. Asking why?
  5. Asking why?

At this point, the root cause should be able to be determined.  A good example can be found here.

While it is a great tool, easy to use, and can help get to the root cause of the problem, I have found that most managers do and prefer to treat the symptoms.  This is often easier, quicker, and a cheaper way to get to the solutions.

So, managers will “lay into” their teams about not working hard enough, not focusing, not caring, and so on. This does two things. First, it gives the manager a chance to shift the blame to their team. Second, telling some one they “need to work” harder is usually cheaper than implementing a root cause solution.

The 5 Why tool can help managers quickly get to the root cause of an issue, but does not help with solution implementation. There has to be a will and desire to change.

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