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Last Updated on February 11, 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?

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’s 5 Whys technique. Sakichi used this technique for Toyota’s assembly line, 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 Why’s 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’ve found a root cause.

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 technique 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.

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

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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 These 5 Questions Efficiently

Before you start asking the 5 Why’s, 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 which problem you’re solving. This will help you avoid finding an irrelevant root cause.

By understanding your problem, you’d 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.

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The rule of thumb here is to keep asking 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.

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

4. Find Your Root Cause

The main goal for using the 5 Why’s framework is to end up with a root cause for the issue you’re experiencing.

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 5 Whys

Learning about the 5 Why’s 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.

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.

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When Do 5 Whys Not Work?

As you’ve seen the 5 Whys isn’t complicated, 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 2 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.

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.

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The good news is that the 5 Whys works with most simple problems everyone faces. So, be sure to master this technique before adopting others ones.

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 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 technique 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

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Christopher Alarcon

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

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Last Updated on April 6, 2020

15 Best Productivity Hacks for Procrastinators

15 Best Productivity Hacks for Procrastinators

Let me guess.

You should be doing something else rather than reading this article. But due to some unknown force of nature, you decided to procrastinate by reading an article about how to hack procrastination. You deserve a pat on the back.

Fortunately, procrastination is not a disease. It’s just a mindset that can be changed, however, here are some productivity tips you need to start getting work done:

First, you need to acknowledge that procrastinating is an unhealthy habit. Not only you’re prioritizing unimportant things, basically, nothing gets done. Still unsure if you’re a procrastinator? Check out this article: Types of Procrastination (And How To Fix Procrastination And Start Doing)

Second, your commitment to change is very important. You should be physically, emotionally, and mentally determined to change this habit. If not, then you’ll just succumb to the tempting lure of doing other things rather than your tasks or chores.

Here are sthe best productivity hacks to improve productivity and keep yourself from procrastinating at work:

1. Give (10+2)*5 a Try

Let’s start with a classic but very effective hack called (10+2)*5 created by Merlin Mann,[1] author of 43Folders.com. Don’t worry. This is not a complicated Mathematical formula you need to solve.

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The (10+2)*5 simply means 10 minutes work + 2 minutes break multiplied by 5, completing 1 hour. It is crucial to stick with the time limits and not skipping work and break schedules. The point of this is for you to create a jam-packed routine of work and break schedules. The result? You will eventually skip your break schedules.

2. Use Red and Blue More Often

Clean your desk and remove things that might distract you. According to a Science Daily study[2] about which colors improve brain performance, red was found out to increase attention to details while blue sparks creativity. Surrounding your workplace with these colors not only benefits your brain, it’s also pleasing to the eye.

3. Create a Break Agenda

List all the things you want to do on your break, be it surfing the web, checking your emails, snack time, taking selfies, Facebook/Twitter—everything.

Like the (10+2)*5 hack, squeeze these in between work time but the difference is you schedule these activities for ONLY 20 minutes. Eventually, you’ll take your break minutes wisely. You’re finishing tasks while sidetracking to doing the things you enjoy.

4. Set a Timetable for Your Tasks

Like any other habits, procrastinating is a tough wall to break. Replace this habit with another habit. When you’re assigned a task, set a timetable for each step. Let’s say you have a big research task. Here’s a sample timetable:

9:00 – 9:10 am – Set up all your tools, browser tabs, emails, coffee, etc..
9:10 – 10:00 am – Internet research
10:00 – 10:45 am – Look through existing files
10:45 – 11:00 am – Break time!
11:00 – 12:00 pm – Outline the research report

Deadlines are the best hack for getting things done. Setting a specific time to finish a task creates time pressure even if the deadline has passed.

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5. Take It Outside!

Do yourself a favor and don’t ruin the comfy vibe of your home. If you need to work on a stressful project, do it in a library or coffee shop. You’ll never finish it anyway. Your cozy sofa and toasty bed will just lure you into napping yourself to doom.

6. Become Productively Lazy

Instead of finding all sorts of ways to unproductively procrastinate, use your habit to look for shortcuts and new ways to finish your tasks. Staple multiple papers at a time or master the 3-second t-shirt folding technique. A strong drive combined with laziness sometimes bring out the productive and creative side you never knew you have!

7. Assign a ‘Task Deputy’

It could be your colleague, your supervisor, or your significant other, anyone who has the unforgiving guts to reprimand you when you procrastinate. You could go the extra mile by paying up unfinished tasks or times you open your Facebook or watch a funny cat video on YouTube. Let’s see how five bucks every time you procrastinate will change you.

8. Consider a Gadget-Free Desk

According to a study by Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, average users check on their phones 150 times per day and having your phone just an elbow away just creates sizzle to this habit.[3]

Removing mobile devices and gadgets allows you to focus on your work without the constant interruption from notifications, calls, and text messages. It eliminates the very distracting ambiance and the urge to unlock your phone just because.

9. Prepping the Night

Before hitting the sack to oblivion, prepare everything you’ll need the next day. This will probably take you 15 minutes tops, saving you more time for coffee in the morning.

Spin class at am? Pack up your gym clothes, shoes, socks, etc. or better, create a checklist so you don’t miss anything. You can also prep your food into containers and just grab one before leaving.

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10. Do a 7-Minute Workout in the Morning

Exercising is proven to increase productivity and stimulate release of endorphin or “Happy Hormones”.

Take a jog outdoors and get warmed up for the day. Don’t feel like running outside? Hop on a treadmilli. It’s a great investment and there are a lot of ways you can use a treadmill like endurance running and metabolism training. On a budget? Here’s a 7 minute, no-equipment needed workout you can do at home:

11. Set-up Mini Tasks

If you’re given a big project, break it down into mini tasks. Create a checklist and start with the easy ones until you finish. Got an article to write? Just start with the title and the first sentence. Or perhaps you have a visual presentation to make?

Spend 15 minutes on your outline, take five minutes coffee break, then finish the first two slides. Accomplishing something, no matter how tiny, still gives you that sense of fulfillment.

12. Create an Inspirational Board or Reminder

I found these mini desk chalkboards from Etsy you can use to write motivating quotes.

Or you know what? Simply write “Do it now!” and stare at it for 10 seconds every time you feel like dropping by on Reddit.

13. Redecorate Your Room

Redecorating my room motivates me to maintain that ‘new’ look for some time until I get use to it and eventually stop. So I redecorate again and again, it became a monthly habit really. Here are some DIY ideas you can do to any room without spending much.

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14. Ready Your Nibbles

You know that trip to the pantry? It’s just seconds away but it took you several minutes just to get your fruit snacks in the fridge. Before starting a task, prepare your nibbles on your desk to avoid zoning out and losing yourself on the way to the pantry.

Bonus productivity hacks you can do at home:

15. Schedule Your Chores

Write down your chores in a weekly basis with matching day and time when you should be doing these.

For the artsy folks, you can create fun chore charts like these or simply stick the list somewhere visibly annoying e.g. mirrors, doors, TV. The trick is listing as many chores as you can for the week and including unfinished chores the following week. Who likes seeing a long list of chores first thing in the morning?

More Tips to Overcome Procrastination

Featured photo credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters via unsplash.com

Reference

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