Before You Fix It, Ask 5 Whys

The 5 Whys


How many times have you launched on a hell-bent mission to fix a problem before really getting to the root cause of why the problem started in the first place?

So often it is easy to come in to a problem and with our best intentions set out on solving the problem in front of us, without really getting to the bottom of how the problem started, or what the real problem is.

For example:

I am furious that my favorite dress is suddenly tight.  If you were to come in to the room as I vented my fury at the dress, you’d understandably be led to believe the problem was firmly with the dress.  Where in fact, the problem is with two weeks of dessert at every meal.  Or something similarly glorious.

Or another:

Your top customer is looking to cancel his account because he isn’t seeing any value from the product any more.  He used to love the product, but over time, with all the updates and changes, nothing works as well as it used to and he wants to move to a competitor.  It appears that he obviously has objections to change.

If you were to ask what he used to love about the product, why he feels it was better before, why he thinks the product doesn’t work as well now, you’d discover that actually he struggles some with technology and is finding it challenging to keep up to date with the changes.  A simple support strategy to help guide him through the changes could be all he needs to stay your top customer.

The discipline of the 5 Whys is a process of asking why until you get to the root cause of a problem.  Often the root is not what you expect!  This process will also reveal the relationship between the problem and the root, enabling you to make positive changes in both the problem you are facing, and what will inevitably be a larger organizational ( or personal ) area with room for improvement.  It could look like this:

There’s no coffee.

1 Why not?

The coffee machine is broken.

2. Why is it broken?

The fuse in the plug blew.

3. Why did it blow?

The electricity in the kitchen has been surging

4. Any idea why it’s been surging?

I think there’s some problems with the electrical cords…. I’m pretty sure I saw some exposed wires.

5.  Any idea why there are exposed wires?

Oh  – I think the guy who came to fix the electricity last week left in a hurry and left some stuff undone.


So – buying coffee or getting another coffee machine wouldn’t have fixed the problem – and you uncovered a potentially dangerous root cause.


Give it a go…. look at the top thing you’re procrastinating on and ask yourself 5 whys.




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