What Is a 5 Why Template?
Without fail, something always undoubtedly goes wrong. But what is the best approach to finding the root cause of the problem and hammering out a solution?
The 5 Whys method offers a scientific approach to quickly and cost-effectively solve problems both big and small. To put it simply, it’s a team-oriented troubleshooting process that asks the question “why?” five times. This allows the inquisitor to discover why the problem initially arose, how best to solve it, and to then implement changes to prevent it from happening again.
Originally, the Toyota Motor Corporation implemented the 5 Whys as a training exercise to teach their employees critical problem-solving skills. Toyota’s technique enjoyed so much success that this method has now been widely adopted by companies looking to provide their employees with a step-by-step problem-solving guide for faster, simpler, and more efficient solutions.
The idea is that this method will inspire a line of thinking in which one question will ultimately flow into the next. From there, problem solutions can be isolated in a structured manner that facilitates speed and accuracy. By repeatedly asking the question “why?” not only can the origin of the problem and its solution reveal itself, but potential, future issues can be identified before they disrupt the workflow.
This template is used to document the following data:
- Time of implementation
- Problem description
- Going through the list of why questions
- Actions and completion dates
- Efficacy consideration
The checklist format makes it easier to identify the root cause of a particular problem and find its appropriate solution. At the same time, the template serves as a tool for action tracking and monitoring. Once the cause has been identified, appropriate countermeasures can be noted in the template and implemented immediately.
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The Advantages of a Checklist in the 5 Whys Analysis
There’s nothing better than the feeling of being able to cross an item off the to-do list. For many, the associated rush is both addictive and empowering. It’s the mark of true productivity.
The same can be said about a checklist. It can easily be applied to the 5 Whys model to isolate problems of human and technical error and improve the overall productivity of business enterprises.
There are numerous advantages to using this model of problem-solving, but this section will only cover the four most prominent benefits:
- Helps Discover Human Error
The use of a checklist makes it simple to identify problematic areas in the
- Improved Efficiency and Productivity
Being able to solve whatever has interrupted the workflow quickly, improves efficiency and productivity, which ultimately translate into crossing off more items on the to-do list in a single day.
- Saves Time and Energy
Using a checklist frees up the mind to solve the problems that truly matter. It presents a straightforward, easy-to-follow guide of the next steps.
- Makes Delegating Easier
Once the problem has been identified, it’s just a matter of delegating to the right people who are best equipped to get operations back up and running.
This analysis requires time, effort, and follow-up. However, with the help of a checklist, targeting matters of human error can be done in a snap, ultimately saving your business time, money, and certainly some headaches.
The 5 Steps of the 5 Whys Method
Solving problems are easier said than done, especially when the problem has stumped even the brightest minds in the company. The 5 Whys root cause analysis outlines five easy steps to take when the solution is nowhere in sight.
The following five steps should be conducted by sequentially:
1. Assemble a Team
Two minds are always better than one. In this case, a team should be composed of people from different departments because a cross-functional team provides an outside perspective that is critical to making informed decisions.
2. Define the Problem
The more information that is gathered, the faster the root cause will be addressed. The following questions offer an example of where to start:
- What is the difficulty?
- When did it occur for the first time?
- How often?
- By whom was it discovered?
- What were the consequences?
It is important to get an on-site picture and talk to all concerned parties. It should not be done remotely or from the desk. It is important at this stage not to make any assumptions that might later lead to the wrong conclusions.
Especially in large companies it can be helpful to use a digital application to collect all relevant information in a knowledge base.
3. Asking “Why”
An employee should be assigned as the team leader for the entire duration of the process. He or she will ask questions and see that the team stays on track. Keep in mind that answers should be based on data and facts, not opinions.
The most difficult aspect of this step will be finding the right balance between not inquiring enough and inquiring too much. Too much questioning can lead to inappropriate suggestions and complaints. Therefore, the focus should always be on the root cause.
Sometimes there is more than one root cause for a problem. In these cases, the analysis will look like a matrix with different branches. This can also identify organizational problems that negatively impact overall performance.
One tip that can help when brainstorming questions is to write in a stream of consciousness. The idea behind this is to unburden the mind of assigning blame to anything that might get in the way of solution-based thinking. Let the root of the problem reveal itself through these five questions.
- Why is the company’s profit margin lower than last month?
The profit margin is lower because not all the orders were filled on time.
- Why weren’t the orders filled on time?
The orders weren’t filled on time because the company ran out of supplies.
- Why did the company run out of supplies?
The company ran out of supplies because the shipment wasn’t delivered.
- Why didn’t the company receive its monthly shipment?
The company didn’t receive its shipment because the order wasn’t placed.
- Why wasn’t the order placed?
The order wasn’t placed because there was a break in the chain of communication.
The root problem of this analysis was a breakdown in the company’s internal communication process. The solution would then be to set up recurring orders that are placed automatically so there are no more disruptions to the supply chain and, consequently, the bottom line.
It’s important to keep in mind that this process isn’t limited to just five questions, and there may be more than one cause for the root problem. The question “why” should be asked as many times as necessary until the root cause of the initial problem has been identified.
4. Initiate and Implement Corrective Actions
Once the root cause of the problem has been identified, it’s time to take countermeasures to prevent any similar issues from reoccurring. All team members should be involved in the conversation to find and implement the best solution. Once the team has settled on a solution, create a plan of action that outlines tasks, assigns responsibilities, and follows a timeline.
After a certain amount of time, the team should reconvene and check whether the measures have had a positive effect. If not, the process needs to be repeated.
5. Try Alternatives
In the instances when more than one cause is the culprit for the root problem, it might be helpful to try the Ishikawa diagram that provides a visual framework for causes and their effects.
If the initial solution doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board or assemble a bigger team. The more minds working together on a problem, the better.
What Is the Relationship Between Root Cause Analysis and the 5 Whys Method?
First, it’s important to define what root cause anaylsis is before discussing the relationship between this method and the 5 Whys.
Root cause analysis is the process of uncovering the underlying issue in order to find an appropriate solution. Instead of having to constantly put out fires as problems arise, a team can get ahead of the problem and prevent any subsequent issues by addressing the cause instead of its symptoms.
The goal of root cause analysis is then to isolate the problem, find out what’s causing the problem, and then craft a solution to said problem. Although that’s often easier said than done.
That’s where the five why method comes in. It’s designed to root out this underlying issue by asking a series of questions with the aim to eventually expose the obstacle causing the hiccup in operations. The 5 Whys is supposed to make this process go more smoothly by a simple question-answer approach.
Asking why something is the way it establishes parameters to the overall concept. For example, it’s easier to begin to understand the problem of a headache by first asking, “why does my head hurt?”
It doesn’t suffice to acknowledge the headache by putting an icepack on it and calling it a day. It’s a band-aid solution that may make the head feel better in the short run, but doesn’t effectively prevent the headache from returning.
Below, is a series of questions to help better understand how this line of questioning works:
- But asking, “Why does my head hurt?” lays the premise to solving the problem of the headache.
- Maybe the answer is, “I haven’t eaten in a day and my blood sugar is low.”
- The natural next question would be: “Why haven’t I eaten in a day?”
Maybe you bought a new tv that didn’t leave any money left in the budget to go grocery shopping. Understanding the root cause allows for suggestions to be made and resolutions to be found.
For this example, the obvious short-term solution would be to address the issue of low blood sugar by eating something, but the long-term lesson here would be to put necessity before wanting to prevent this particular dilemma from happening again in the future.
However, this is just a simple example to help understand how this approach is supposed to make distinguishing between a problem’s cause and a problem’s effect easier, faster, and more intuitive.
The 5 Why Digital Template: An Example
Lumiform’s mobile app for checklists and other templates has everything you need to successfully complete a 5 Whys analysis. Quality and safety checks can be performed easily and shared instantly with the entire team through the app. Thus, corrective actions can be automatically assigned to responsible colleagues and implemented four times faster than the regular pen and paper checklists.
Individual digital forms
The flexible form builder makes it possible to create new individual checklists for the 5 Why method at any time and adapt them again and again.
Scheduling and notifications
The Lumiform app ensures that the schedule is followed. All employees receive notifications about the procedure and due dates.
Timed work steps
Everyone on the team keeps track of the schedule through the app and uses all available information to identify the root cause of the problem.
Quick analysis of problems
The data and facts collected during the survey can be found under the analysis tab. Here, everyone can access the information. This helps identify the root causes of a problem more quickly.
Tracking actions over time
Lumiform makes it easier to track the implementation and success of measures. This allows for early intervention if corrective actions are not working.
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