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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

How to Use the 5 Whys to Get to the Root Cause of Any Problem

How to Use the 5 Whys to Get to the Root Cause of Any Problem

Do you take long to solve career or business problems? It may be time to learn how to use the 5 Whys to make the process simpler.

Maybe you believe that you need to know 1000 techniques to solve problems faster. The truth is that there isn’t a single technique that can solve all your problems. But despite this reality, you can still solve most of your problems in an effective way.

How? By leveraging Sakichi Toyoda’s 5 Whys technique. Toyoda used this technique for the Toyota production system, but you can apply it to most of your problems[1]. So, stop trying to memorize dozens of techniques and get ready to work smarter!

What Is the 5 Whys Method?

With the 5 Whys technique, you have to ask 5 questions.

Simple, right? Whenever you’re facing a problem, ask what may have contributed to the current results. Then, continue asking 5 times, or until you reach the root cause.

The 5 Whys | Find the Root Cause of a Problem Fast

    How do you know that this technique works? Well, Toyota has successfully implemented this technique to improve their assembly line. Now imagine what it can do to help you solve common problems[2]!

    The 5 Whys process isn’t complex, but it’ll take time to get used to. If you’re like most, you tend to jump at finding solutions when solving problems. Instead, start by asking one question each time you’re facing a problem.

    It can be for anything minor such as being stuck in traffic. In this case, your first question would be why you didn’t avoid traffic. Ask a single question for all your problems, and continue adding more until you ask 5 by default.

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    Eventually, you’ll know when to ask the 5 Whys and find a root cause to most of your problems. But, you don’t always have to work alone. When you work with unfamiliar topics, work with team members to brainstorm answers.

    If you want to know how to be a great team player, check out this article.

    For example, if you’re troubleshooting a bad marketing campaign for your business, work with your marketing team to find a solution. As a business owner, you’ll wear many hats but won’t be able to find a root cause to most of your problems alone.

    How to Ask the 5 Whys Efficiently

    Before you start asking the 5 Whys, you need to prepare to get the best results. Here’s the flow process for solving a real-world problem:

    1. Get the Right Resources

    You don’t know what you don’t know. So, gather information through books and online resources before solving a problem. You’ll find yourself researching more often for topics you’re not familiar with.

    If you don’t prepare, you’ll limit yourself to an ineffective root cause.

    You can also surround yourself with people who specialize in certain areas. This way you can work together with your group to find the best root cause of a problem.

    Your goal here is to feel comfortable with the questions you’re working with. Avoid answering questions you’re unsure of because you’ll most likely end up with a bad root cause.

    2. Understand the Problem

    Before you solve any problem, it’s important to know the nature of the problem you’re solving. This will help you avoid finding an irrelevant root cause.

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    When you define the problem, you’ll also avoid confusion when working with teams. For example, when working in teams, often it’s easy to assume that everyone is working on the same problem. But this isn’t always the case and can cause teams working to solve two different problems.

    3. Ask Your First 5 Questions

    Once you’ve spent enough time preparing, ask your first question. Instead of giving quick answers, brainstorm which answers will bring the most value. Each question depends on its predecessor, so give meaningful answers.

    The rule of thumb here is to keep repeating why five times until you’ve found a potential root cause. Typically, 5 questions or less is enough to solve the most common problems, but don’t limit yourself to 5 questions if it’s genuinely necessary to ask more.

    Instead, keep asking questions until you can’t anymore.

    4. Find Your Root Cause

    The main goal for using the 5 Whys framework is to end up with a root cause for the issue you’re experiencing. You should come up with an answer that helps you understand when/why the problem occurs.

    It’s also used to address high-level issues so that you can track your progress afterward. By addressing high-level issues, you’ll solve problems quicker before addressing the root cause.

    An Example of the 5 Whys

    Learning about the 5 Whys framework is great, but having real-world examples is better. Here’s an example you can use as a template for when you’re solving real-world problems:

    Problem: Employers haven’t called me back for an interview for the past 3 months

    • Question 1: Why is my resume not getting noticed by employers?
      Because it’s too generic and not showing any special skills for the roles you’re applying to.
    • Question 2: Why is my resume too generic?
      Because I want it to appeal to many professions.
    • Question 3: Why do I want to apply to many professions?
      Because I want to increase my chances of getting hired.
    • Question4: Why would applying to several professions increase my odds at getting hired?
      Because I wouldn’t limit myself to available job openings at one specific profession.
    • Question 5: Why would I limit myself to job openings available?
      Because there is a high demand for my profession.

    In this scenario, you’d stop at question 5 because you’ve found a potential root cause.

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    Since there’s a lot of competition for your industry, your resume needs to stand out. Who do you think an employer will hire, a jack of all trades or an expert in their profession?

    Whenever you’re working with a problem, take time to brainstorm the best questions. That’s because it’ll impact the quality of the root cause you’ll end up with.

    When Do the 5 Whys Not Work?

    As you’ve seen, the 5 Whys isn’t complicated and can be used for many kinds of problems, but it takes a lot of effort to execute correctly. When done right, it can help you find the culprit to most of your common problems. The problem is that this technique isn’t suited for every situation.

    Unreplicable Results

    You won’t be able to replicate the same results. Think about it: you’re creating your own questions and answering them in a unique way. No one else would be able to replicate your results for the most part.

    This means that even two teams working in the same environment will come up with two separate answers.

    Limited by the Knowledge Available

    As mentioned before, gather enough information when solving an unknown problem. The problem is that you won’t always have the best resources available. Because of this, you’ll limit yourself to the quality of your answers.

    If you’re ever facing an unknown topic, try a different problem-solving technique.

    Focusing on a Single Root Cause

    The main goal behind using the 5 Whys is to come up with a single root cause. But all problems don’t always have a single solution. For example, a marketing campaign can have a best, good, and worst case scenario.

    These limitations don’t make the 5 Whys a bad technique to use. Instead, they let you know how to use this technique more effectively.

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    The 5 Whys works best for improving processes and solving simple problems, but it falls short when working with complex problems. That’s why you’ll need to know other alternatives.

    For example, a company’s low customer response rate may be due to several factors. In this case, you’d choose a technique that’s better suited to solve complex problems. Determine which problems you face the most to know which techniques will help you the most.

    The Bottom Line

    Imagine conquering issues most people give up on.

    People would look at you and assume that you know 1000 ways to solve a problem. The truth is that not much has changed since you’d struggled with solving problems.

    But you’re now using a proven system that’s made your life easier.

    You’re a problem-solving machine.

    If you don’t believe this can be your reality, you’re wrong. You have what it takes to solve your problems, but you’ll need to practice. Start by asking one question today as you face a problem.

    Then, keep doing the same until you’re asking several questions for each of your problems. You won’t master the 5 Whys analysis overnight, but, with enough practice, this technique will feel more natural.

    More Problem Solving Techniques

    Featured photo credit: Startaê Team via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: The Unimportance of Practically Everything
    [2] Harvard Business Review: The Five Whys for Start-Ups

    More by this author

    Christopher Alarcon

    Finance Analyst and Founder of the Financially Well Off Blog & Podcast

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    Last Updated on November 27, 2020

    How to Memorize More and Faster Than Other People

    How to Memorize More and Faster Than Other People

    People like to joke that the only thing you really “learn” in school is how to memorize. As it turns out, that’s not even the case for most of us. If you go around the room and ask a handful of people how to memorize things quickly and how to remember things, most of them will probably tell you that the key is repetition.

    However, if you were to talk to memory athletes, you would learn that that advice is not pointing you in the right direction. If you want to memorize something quickly and thoroughly, repetition won’t cut it; however, recalling something will. The problem is that recalling something requires paying attention and learning, and we all learn in different ways.

    So, how can you memorize something fast?

    In this article, you will learn memory techniques to master the art of recalling so that you can start memorizing a ton of data in a short amount of time.

    Before You Start, Know Your Learning Style

    Before you get started, you need to establish something: are you an auditory, visual, or experiential learner?

    If you’re an auditory learner, then the most effective way for you to grasp information is by hearing it. As you can imagine, visual learners favor seeing something in order to learn it. Experiential learning types are more likely to learn from events and experiences (or, doing something with the material).

    Find out your learning style here: There Are 7 Types of Learners: Which One Are You?

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    Most of us are a combination of at least two of these categories, but I will denote which step is most favorable to your most agreeable learning style so that you can start to memorize things quickly and efficiently.

    Follow the steps below to start your memory training and store all of those useful pieces of information in your long term memory.

    1. Prepare

    To optimize your memorization session and learn how to memorize something fast, pay close attention to which environment you choose. For most people, this means choosing an area with few distractions, though some people do thrive off of learning in public areas. Figure out what is most conducive to your learning so that you can get started.

    Next, start drinking some tea. I could link you to mounds of scientific studies that confirm green tea as a natural catalyst for improving memory. Mechanically speaking, our ability to recall information comes down to the strength between neurons in our mind, which are connected by synapses. The more you exercise the synapse (repetition), the stronger it is, resulting in the ability to memorize.

    As we get older, toxic chemicals will damage our neurons and synapses, leading to memory loss and even Alzheimer’s. Green tea contains compounds that block this toxicity and keep your brain cells working properly a lot longer.

    2. Record What You’re Memorizing

    This is especially useful if you’re trying to memorize information from a lecture. Use a tape recorder to track all of the acquired facts being spoken and listen to it. If you’re doing something more complicated, like learning a foreign language, it may be useful to make notecards of the new words you’re trying to memorize.

    If you’re trying to memorize a speech, record yourself reading the speech aloud and listen to yourself speaking. Obviously, this is most helpful for auditory learners, but it’s also handy because it ensures that you’re getting more context from a lecture that will help you learn the information faster.

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    3. Write Everything Down

    Before you start trying to recall everything from memory, write and rewrite the information. This will help you become more familiar with what you’re trying to memorize. Of course, we said above that repetition isn’t always the best way to memorize something, but this can be great for visual learners as you’ll be able to see the information in front of you.

    Doing this while listening to the recordings can also help you retain a lot of the data. This is most useful for experiential learners.

    4. Section Your Notes

    Now that you have everything written down in one set of notes, separate them into sections. This is ideal for visual learners, especially if you use color coding to differentiate between subjects.

    This will help you break everything down and start compartmentalizing the information being recorded in your brain.

    5. Use the Memory Palace Technique

    A great way to “section off” information is through the memory palace technique[1]. This is especially good for visual learners, but it can also work as a sort of “experience” for experiential learners, and if you say the path out loud, it can work for auditory learners as well.

    There are several steps to this technique, but it basically involves choosing a place you know well, identifying it’s distinctive features, and using those features to “store” bits of information you want to remember.

    For example, if you’re working on learning how to memorize lines, you can find a place in your memory palace for each line of text, and as you’re reciting them when the time comes, you’ll simply have to walk through the room to pick up each line of text in the correct order. When everything has its place, it’ll be waiting for you to retrieve it.

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    To learn how to apply the memory palace technique, read this article, which offers details on each step: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything.

    6. Apply Repetition to Cumulative Memorization

    For each line of text, repeat it a few times and try to recall it without looking. As you memorize each set of text, be cumulative by adding the new information to what you’ve just learned. This will keep everything within your short-term memory from fading.

    How does this work? It’s actually related to two distinct modes of brain functioning: System 1 and System 2. You can take a look at how these systems work if you want to improve your memory.

    Keep doing this until you have memorized that section and are able to recall the entire thing. Do not move on to another section until you have memorized that one completely.

    This is mostly visual learning, but if you are speaking aloud, then you are also applying auditory.

    7. Teach It to Someone

    Studies have shown that teaching information to someone is a surefire way to remember that information as it requires you to retrieve the information from your own memory[2]. You can do this in a variety of ways. You can lecture the knowledge to someone sitting right in front of you (or the mirror, if you can’t convince anyone to sit through it).

    If what you’ve learned needs to be recited verbatim, then do this in front of someone as well in order to get a feel for what it will be like to recite the text to the intended audience.

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    My favorite method for this is creating tests for other people. Take the information and predict what questions will come out of them. Use multiple choice, matching, and so on to present the data in test format and see how someone else does.

    All of this is experiential learning since you are actually practicing and manipulating the concepts you’ve learned.

    8. Listen to the Recordings Continuously

    While doing unrelated tasks like laundry or driving, go over the information again by listening to your recordings. This is certainly auditory learning, but it will still supplement everything you’ve shoved into your short-term memory.

    9. Take a Break

    Finally, let your mind breathe. Go for a short time without thinking about what you just learned and come back to it later on. Better yet, get out and take a walk while you’re on your break in order to absorb the benefits of being in nature.

    You’ll find out what you really know once you come back to the information, and this will help you focus on the sections you might be weakest at.

    Try these steps now, and you will find remembering things a lot easier, and you’ll memorize more than a lot of other people!

    Final Thoughts

    Whether you’re learning how to memorize a speech, learn a new language, or cramming for tomorrow’s exam, memory serves us in nearly every area of our lives. Once you learn how to memorize information faster and more efficiently, you’ll put yourself ahead of the pack of those who are still struggling to remember and recall necessary bits of information. Get started today!

    More on How to Memorize Information

    Featured photo credit: Caleb Angel via unsplash.com

    Reference

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