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Published on January 8, 2019

How to Solve Any Problem Efficiently with 5 Whys (Step-By-Step Guide)

How to Solve Any Problem Efficiently with 5 Whys (Step-By-Step Guide)

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. Here’s how to adopt the 5 Whys technique to solve problems:

Uncovering 5 Questions to Most Problems

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.

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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 have to always work alone. When you work with unfamiliar topics, work with a team to brainstorms answers.

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.

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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 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.

The Proven Strategy in Action

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?

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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.

Potential Drawbacks to Using This Technique

Besides only solving simple problems, there are other areas where the 5 Whys falls short:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

Don’t Rely on One Method to Solve Problems

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.

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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 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.

Be a Problem-Solving Machine

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.

So, what’s stopping you now?

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

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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