Help Your Team Solve Core Problems

Use the 5 Whys as a Leader

A question mark

This simple habit delivers a significant impact by uncovering assumptions, root causes and new ideas.

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5 Why's example

Here's how it works. You ask "Why?" 5 times. It's that simple.

Let's walk through an example. Imagine a conversation between a father and son.
Dad: Why are you home in the middle of the day?
Kid: Dad, I can't go to class.
Dad: Why?
Kid: The car won't start
Dad: Why?
Kid: The battery is dead
Dad: Why is the battery dead?
Kid: It's been an issue; I think the alternator isn't working.
Dad: Why do you think that?
Kid: It's one of the error codes on the dashboard.

The key is to move past symptoms to causal factors.

Suppose the dad stopped after even the third why then he'd be replacing a battery that would soon be dead. You can imagine even more questions coming after this dialogue about underlying issues like regular maintenance.

The 5 Why's process

5-Why's exercise is a problem-solving technique that can help teams get to the root cause of an issue.

Here are some steps you can follow to use the 5-Why's exercise:

  • Define the problem: Start by defining the problem you want to solve. This could be anything from a technical issue with a product to a process problem within the team.
  • Ask "why?": Ask why the problem is happening. The first answer you get may not be the root cause, but keep asking "why?" for each answer until you get to the root cause.
  • Repeat the process: Once you've identified the root cause, ask "why?" again to see if there are any other underlying issues that need to be addressed.
  • Identify solutions: After you've identified the root cause, brainstorm potential solutions to address the problem.
  • Test and implement the solution: Choose the best solution, test it out, and implement it. Make sure to monitor the results and adjust as needed.

Here's another example of how the 5-Why's exercise might work in practice:

  • Problem: The team is consistently missing project deadlines.
  • Why are we missing project deadlines? Because the team is not working efficiently.
  • Why is the team not working efficiently? Because team members are not clear on their roles and responsibilities.
  • Why are team members not clear on their roles and responsibilities? Because there is no clear communication plan in place.
  • Why is there no clear communication plan in place? Because there was no time allocated to develop one.
  • Why was no time allocated to develop a communication plan? Because the project scope changed and the team didn't adjust their plan accordingly.

Solution: Allocate time to develop a clear communication plan that takes into account any changes in the project scope.

Five isn't a magical number, but it's enough to get to underlying causes but not so many that you start to frustrate people. The key is to move past symptoms to causal factors.

I don't feel like every question has to be, "Why?" Asking "How? When? What? or Where?" can also be helpful, but "Why?" seems to be the most effective at getting to the cause of things.

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How I use the 5 Why's

I will use the 5 Whys in one of two ways:

  1. I tell everyone I'm using it to facilitate a discussion challenging the team to keep digging deeper.
  2. I can also use it subtly by keeping a curious posture and continuing to ask questions.

This habit is a great one to teach your team. It will empower each one to do the discovery work that's necessary to leadership.

It’s easy to feel stuck or have an obstacle and not be sure how to begin to overcome it. I can lead your team through workshops for discovery, ideation, problem-solving, and solution testing.

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As a young team leader, it's essential to guide your team through the 5-Why's exercise. Encourage your team to dig deeper and identify the root cause of the problem. Don't jump to conclusions or assume you know the answer before going through the exercise. The 5-Why's exercise can be a powerful tool for problem-solving, but it requires patience, collaboration, and a willingness to learn from past mistakes.

Action Plan

Reflection Questions:

  1. When do you not ask why and end up treating a symptom rather than a cause?
  2. When will you apply the 5 Whys?

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Design Thinking?

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that involves a deep understanding of user needs and experiences to create innovative solutions. It is a human-centered methodology that seeks to empathize with users, define their problems, ideate potential solutions, prototype and test those solutions, and iterate based on feedback.

Design thinking emphasizes creativity, collaboration, and experimentation, and it can be applied to a wide range of challenges, from product design and development to service design and organizational change. It involves creating a culture of continuous learning and improvement, where failure is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Some key principles of design thinking include:

  1. Empathy: Design thinking starts with empathy for the user, seeking to understand their needs, motivations, and pain points through observation, interviews, and other research methods.
  2. Iteration: Design thinking is an iterative process, involving the creation and testing of prototypes to refine and improve solutions.
  3. Collaboration: Design thinking is a collaborative approach that involves bringing together diverse perspectives and skills to ideate and create solutions.
  4. Visualization: Design thinking often involves visualizing ideas and concepts through sketches, diagrams, and other visual representations.
  5. User-Centeredness: Design thinking prioritizes the needs and experiences of users, creating solutions that are tailored to their specific needs and preferences.

Overall, design thinking is a powerful approach to problem-solving that emphasizes creativity, collaboration, and user-centeredness. It can help organizations develop innovative solutions to complex challenges while creating a culture of continuous improvement.

Learn more about design thinking.

What are the five steps of design thinking?

Design thinking typically involves the following five iterative steps:

  1. Empathize: This stage involves understanding the user's needs, desires, and challenges. Designers use empathy to put themselves in the user's shoes to gain a deep understanding of their experiences.
  2. Define: In this stage, designers synthesize their research findings and define the problem statement, which serves as a guiding principle throughout the rest of the process to ensure that solutions are focused on addressing the problem.
  3. Ideate: During the ideation phase, designers generate a wide range of ideas and potential solutions to the problem statement. Brainstorming, sketching, and other creative techniques are commonly used to help facilitate the generation of novel ideas.
  4. Prototype: In this phase, designers create a prototype of the best solution or solutions that emerged from the ideation stage. Prototypes can take many different forms, but they are typically visual representations that allow users to interact with the potential solution and provide feedback.
  5. Test: Finally, the designer tests the prototype with users, gathers feedback, and observes how the user interacts with the prototype. This feedback is then used to refine the prototype further, leading to an improved solution or even new ideas and further iterations of the design thinking process.

Overall, design thinking provides a structured approach to problem-solving that emphasizes creativity, collaboration, and user-centeredness. It enables designers to develop innovative solutions that meet the needs of the users while also providing value to the organization.

Learn more about design thinking.

What are some of the best design thinking exercises?

There are many design thinking exercises that teams can use to generate creativity and innovation. Here are some examples:

  1. Empathy mapping: In this exercise, team members map out the user's experience and emotions to better understand their needs and pain points.
  2. Idea generation: One classic idea generation exercise is brainstorming, which involves generating as many ideas as possible without judgment or critique. Another popular exercise is "Crazy 8s," in which team members sketch eight ideas in eight minutes.
  3. Prototyping: Prototyping exercises include creating low-fidelity prototypes using materials like paper, cardboard, or clay to help teams visualize and test their ideas.
  4. Role-playing: Role-playing exercises help teams empathize with users by acting out different scenarios and personas.
  5. Collaborative sketching: This exercise involves having team members collaborate on a single sketch or drawing, each taking turns adding to the design.
  6. Mind-mapping: Mind-mapping exercises help to organize thoughts and ideas by visually representing the relationships between them.
  7. SCAMPER: This acronym stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse. This exercise is helpful in generating new ideas by encouraging teams to brainstorm ways to modify or adapt existing products or processes.

Overall, these exercises help teams to generate and test ideas, refine solutions, and work collaboratively towards creating innovative solutions that meet the needs of users.

Learn more about design thinking.

How to use Design Thinking

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