Problem solving 101, Part 1.

The first step in problem solving is to understand the symptoms and then try to identify the root cause. There are many methodologies widely used. The “5 Whys” method is a simple method and can be effective in most cases.

For most problems, we can get to the root cause by drilling into proposed explanations by repeatedly asking "Why?" The 5 Whys method was developed by the Toyota Motor Corporation. It is based on the observation that five iterations of asking "Why?" is usually enough to get to the root cause of most real world problems.
The following example demonstrates the basic process: My car will not start. (the problem)
Why? - The battery is dead. (first why)
Why? - The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
Why? - The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
Why? - The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and has never been replaced. (fourth why)
Why? - I have not been maintaining my car according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, root cause)

1. It helps to quickly determine the root cause of a problem
2. It is easy to learn and apply

1. The results are not repeatable. We may well end up with different results depending on who runs the exercise.
2. Inability to go beyond the investigator's current knowledge - can't find causes that they don't already know

Getting to the true root cause can be tricky to a beginner! but continued practice of this exercise help. Don't stop at the first or second simple answer, or be blinded by the symptoms or settle for the first ‘apparent’ cause. The first ‘cause’ offered is almost never the real root cause.

Even though this method was popularized by Toyota, this method of inquiry has been around for ages. I remember a poem/song my wife sings to our son.

For want of a nail a shoe was lost,
for want of a shoe a horse was lost,
for want of a horse a rider was lost,
for want of a rider an army was lost,
for want of an army a battle was lost,
for want of a battle the war was lost,
for want of the war the kingdom was lost,

"Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are my own only and in no way represent the views, positions or opinions - expressed or implied - of my employer (present and past) "
"Please post your comments - Swati Ranganathan"


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