The 5 Whys is a simple, yet effective method of identifying the root cause of a problem. It works by asking “why” five times to move beyond band-aid solutions, get to the crux of the matter, and solve it once and for all.
The Five Whys Technique was developed by Toyota founder, Sakichi Toyoda in the 1930s and continues to be a crucial way of how Toyota solves problems even today.
It has gained popularity among product teams for its flexible, quick, and effective approach to arriving at the root cause of a problem and addressing underlying issues that give way to bigger problems later. These are the steps it follows:
1. Defining the problem: Taking note of the issue at hand.
2. Asking the first “why”: Figuring out what led to the problem in the first place before arriving at a solution for it. The answer to this “why” is used as the basis for the next step.
3. Ask “why” four more times: Repeat the question using the answer from the previous iteration as the base.
The Five Whys template can be suited to the needs and problems of every business. By answering questions in the order mentioned below, individuals and organizations can look beyond surface-level problems in order to arrive at targeted solutions.
Step 1 – Identify the problem: The first step in using the 5 Whys Technique is to identify the systemic issues or fundamental concerns that caused it.
Step 2 – Data Collection: Gather relevant data and information related to the problem so that it can provide insights into the issue. The root causes are typically the core issues that can prevent the problem from recurring in the future.
Step 3 – Ask the first ‘why’: Once the issue is identified, the first ‘why’ question is asked. Then the answer to the first ‘why’ question is used as the basis for the second ‘why’ question.
Step 4 – Ask ‘why’ four more times: This process is repeated five times, and each time the question is asked based on the answer to the previous question. By the fifth ‘why’ question, the root cause of the problem is identified, so that you can come up with a targeted solution.
After a series of ‘Whys,’ you will reach a point where the answer to a particular question reveals the underlying cause of the problem. This is the root cause that needs to be addressed for effective problem solving.
Step 5 – Monitor Progress:Once the root cause is identified, brainstorm and execute strategies to eliminate the identified issue. The solution to the problem is rooted to the insights gained through the 5 Whys process.
The 5 Whys Technique can be used in product management to help product teams and individual stakeholders unmask underlying concerns behind a problem.
Through this process of iterative interrogation, product teams can move beyond the surface-level understanding of the problem, consider its wider implications, and arrive at the underlying cause behind it. This prepares product teams for long-term goals by eliminating recurring roadblocks that arise due to short-term temporary fixes.
One popular company that made use of this technique is Candy Crush, the online gaming platform that got users hooked on its offering through the iterative process of asking “why” to take the present form of everyone’s favorite game.
The first version of Candy Crush offered “three minutes of great gaming” in the words of its maker. However, the team sensed that this was not enough for gaining more users.
In the answer to their first “why”, their art team worked on making the candies look more appealing in an attempt to garner user attention and resonance while they played the game. This did not have the intended effect of captivating mobile gamers and could not prevent user churn.
Their second “why” led them to add social layers to the game and tap into the psychological involvement of players in the game while competing with others and being conscious of their own progress vis-a-vis fellow players. Consequently, the game was moved to Facebook, and its makers intended the game to be played on a maximum number of platforms.
This would definitely lead to greater visibility for the game with players involved from multiple platforms, but here’s where the third “why” dawned on its maker a valid concern from the point of view of retention and alternative gaming choices before users when ran out of lives.
Taking from this concern, their fourth “why” led them to keep users engrossed and keep them coming back for more, iterative improvements were made to the game’s monetization strategies with adjustments in in-app purchases for boosters and lives.
By the time of asking “why” for the fifth time, the makers were clear on the importance of embedding a sense of progress within the game for it to evolve. Having established that they found their answer in having users involved in the complexity of the layers of the game.
Completing one level, leaving behind others in moving to the next, and winning milestones would keep users coming back for more, and that is exactly what happened when Candy Crush topped the App Store ratings and claimed the attention of players from all generations.
Applying this technique helped Candy Crush take the intentional experimentation route to improve their offering, with their experiments refined to get to the root of the problem each time.
The best time to use the 5 whys technique in product management is when problems causing the slightest inconveniences present themselves by way of potential roadblocks in meeting desired outcomes.
In order to achieve accuracy, it is essential to involve relevant product management stakeholders for the successful application of this technique. It is important to have clear and efficient communication with concerned product teams and eliminate preconceived assumptions. This will help to get an actionable and viable answer from every “why” of addressing the problem.
The 5 Whys can be applied to minor and major problems. However, in product management, it is advisable to address minor problems the minute they arise and before they escalate to massive implications and hamper the progression of product teams according to the product roadmap.
You can use the 5 Whys technique to help your team or organization solve problems by making it a standard part of the review process. You can train your team on the technique, encourage curiosity and continual improvement, and give them the tools and support they need to get the job done.