Five Why's

Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyota Industries, developed a decision making technique coined as the Five Whys. This technique was designed to drill down on assumptions in order to discover the true root of a problem. This technique is particularly useful when troubleshooting a simple to moderate problem, especially involving a system or process that might not appear to be working properly.

Process

  1. Identify a problem statement that defines the most essential description of a problem. For example, this statement might sound something like, "Our website takes longer to load than it did a week ago."

  2. Articulate a why response that proceeds the concluded problem statement. This why conclusion should point to a source of reasoning grounded in fact. This isn't a hypothetical process, rather a succinct form of inquiry that may narrow down towards a successful counter-measure. For example, based on our previous problem statement, and then asking "Why?", one might deduce, "The team recently added a series of new images."

  3. This "Why?" question is then repeated an average of four proceeding times. Five is a general rule-of-thumb, but isn't necessarily meant to be taken literally. The why process may be fewer or greater than five; and that's alright.

  4. Once a fifth "Why?" question has been answered, the next step is to decide on a potential counter-measure. This counter-measure should articulate a simple and actionable decision that may result in a solution or next-steps for the problem.

Notes

  • This process is not meant to place blame or hold any individual responsible for a particular problem. The most common conclusions should establish an organizational issue or process that needs adjustment.

  • When the appropriate stakeholders have been assembled around this process, this process should take less than 30 minutes to accomplish. Though, this process can be repeated multiple times throughout a project per the continued need.

Example

  1. Problem Statement

    1. The page ranking for the website X has lowered from the previous week.

  2. Why?

    1. The lighthouse report suggests a lower ranking because of slower page load times.

  3. Why?

    1. New images and a chat box have recently been added to the site, and those are being flagged in the report.

  4. Why?

    1. New images -> To make the site more aesthetically pleasing.

    2. Chat box -> To increase customer service capabilities.

  5. Why?

    1. Aesthetics -> Average page view session is less than 1 second, we predict a more appealing design will encourage longer engagement.

    2. Customer service -> Our competitors found conversion success in real-time communication services.

  6. Why?

    1. Engagement -> We assume when a user spends more time on the site they will remember us when making a buying decision.

    2. Conversions -> Customers in our market have a lot of questions, and answering these questions have been found to contribute to customer retention.

  7. Counter-measure

    1. There is an assumption that a better design will result in a more memorable branding.

      1. We can validate this assumption by testing, or finding research, that concludes time-spent translates to better brand-recall.

      2. We can validate this assumption by testing, or finding research, that aesthetics encourages customer interest/engagement.

      3. We can optimize imagery and discover alternatives that conclude a similarly desired effect.

    2. An equal competitor is finding success with techniques we aren't yet implementing.

      1. We can explore similar alternatives to a chat box, for example: FAQ pages, a documentation site, alternative methods of CTA, etc.

      2. We can explore chat box software with a lighter footprint; discover who our chat box competitors are and how they differentiate.

      3. We can make sacrifices throughout the rest of the website to help offset the chat box loading requirements.