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The 5 Whys

This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. As the title suggests, the group defines a problem, then asks the question “why” five times, often using the resulting explanation as a starting point for creative problem solving.

  1. Step 1:

    Work as a group to create a problem statement. This helps bring the group together and focus around the specific challenge. Write it at the top of the paper/whiteboard/flipchart. The problem statement should be a single statement, formulated as concisely as possible.

    e.g. "We are spending too much money in our German office." / “Customers are dissatisfied with the quality of our latest product.”

  2. Step 2:

    Ask the group: Why do we have this problem? Discuss the answer. Try and encapsulate it in another concise problem statement.

  3. Step 3:

    Ask the group again: Why do we have this problem? Again, discuss the answer and encapsulate it in a problem statement.

  4. Step 4:

    If the group feels like they have identified the root cause of the problem then you can stop asking why. If not then continue the cycle.

  5. Step 5:

    Once you have your root problem statement, ask the group how they would like to proceed to solve it. You could use one of the idea generation methods in the Toolbox to begin to create new ideas for addressing the problem.