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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Five Whys Technique for Problem Solving

Problem solving requires asking the right questions.

If you're an engineer who's been involved in Six Sigma, you've heard of the Five Whys Technique for solving problems. It's a brilliant technique made popular by car-maker Toyota in the 1970s, but it has widespread application.

The Five Whys Technique says that it usually takes five questions to find the truth or the "root cause."

In industry, a Five-Whys conversation would sound like this:

  1. Why did that machine suddenly stop? Because a fuse blew.
  2. Why did a fuse blow? Because the fuse wasn't the right size.
  3. Why was the wrong size in the fuse box? Because one of our engineers put it there.
  4. Why did the he do that? Because somebody in the supply room issued the wrong size fuse.
  5. Why? Because the stock bin for fuses was mislabeled.

BOTTOMLINE: Try this technique next time you get a chance. You don't always have to say "Why." You can throw in a "Help me understand why" or "What was your thinking for doing that" or some other phrase that helps you peel away another layer of the onion. A great way to get the root cause of a problem.

(Tip of the hat to Stephen Meyer, B21 Publisher for his examples...)

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