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When I was a kid, I usually did my homework at 4 PM. I chose that time because it suited me, and more importantly, it became a habit. I normally completed my homework in one and half hour and went for the play. After supplying extra oxygen to heart for 60 minutes, I came back to home, and bath, and watch my favorite cartoon show that broadcasts at 7 PM. God! I love those days.

But there was a problem. I could solve some big mathematical questions but I used to do a lot of small mistakes in my homework. I remember, many times, I calculated 4+4 as 16. My teacher used to complain that I didn’t pay much attention to study but I was a bright student. I always wonder that how can it be that I could solve complex value of “x” but mistook 4+4 as 16. The mystery unfolded last year when I got to know the 5 Whys Technique to Find Root Cause of Problems. The root cause was not that I had a disease, or I didn’t like my homework or didn’t want to study. It was the show that I watched at 7 PM every day. I found it with the help of this technique. Boy! I wish I knew this technique earlier. I could have saved myself for many unwanted problems.

Like the above example, most of us don’t know the cause of the problem that they’re facing. They’re just mistakenly taking symptoms as the root cause. You had a fever today because you had a headache yesterday. Most people would say that the root cause of the fever is a headache that you had yesterday. But, it’s not. A headache is just a symptom. Why you even had a headache yesterday is the root cause.

As companies are run by people, companies also make same mistakes. They fail to understand that root cause of the problem, and rather than spending on the removal of the root cause, they spend heavily on the removal of symptoms. Not only it misbalances their balance sheet, it also leads to keep the problems coming back.

Is your product not selling despite being industry’s best? You blame your marketing team. But are your marketing team being the correct team to blame? You’ll find it out now.

What is Toyota’s 5 Whys Technique?

Toyota’s 5 Whys Technique was introduced by Sakichi Toyoda in 1930, the man behind the multi-billion dollar car maker company. It is a simple Problem Solving technique that allows the user to find the root cause of a problem. He said that to find the root cause, we must ask “Why” at least five times. Sometimes, it can take more than five whys.
Let me show you with an example.

Director: Why did we have manufactured 7% defective products this time?
Head of Quality Assurance: Our employees did not pay attention to the details.

For some of the people, that’s the cause of the problem. Now they spend millions of dollar to educate employees so that they can save over defective products. But is it the real cause?

Now if you’re aware of Toyota’s 5 Whys technique, you would have handled this situation differently.

Doing in Toyota’s Way

Director: Why did we have manufactured 7% defective products this time?
Head of Quality Assurance: Our employees did not pay attention to the details.
Director: Why did our employee did not pay attention to the details?
Head of Quality Assurance: Because they were not informed of the malfunctioning of the motor in summer.
Director: Why weren’t they informed?
Head of Quality Assurance: Because those things weren’t mentioned in the manual.
Director: Why weren’t it mentioned in the manual?
Head of Quality Assurance: Because our engineers forgot to add that the manual.
Director: Why did the engineers forget?
Head of Quality Assurance: Because they didn’t think that they’ll face this problem ever.
Director: Why did they think that?
Head of Quality Assurance: Because normally the temp goes to 89.6˚F in summer. They never thought that it would go 98.6˚F as it went this year.

As you can see, it took 5 Whys to find the root cause. It was not a mistake of employees, but engineers. If the director did not know the root cause, he must have blamed the wrong team and spent millions to educate them. And what would happen? Probably, he’ll face the same problem in next summer. Now he can save the money just by informing engineers to write every detail even if the chances of occurrence is 0.1%.

Symptom vs. Root Cause

The 5 Whys technique is true to this tradition, and it is most effective when the answers come from people who have hands-on experience of the process being examined. It is remarkably simple: when a problem occurs, you uncover its nature and source by asking “why” no fewer than five times. You just saw it.

Toyota's 5 Whys Technique

Symptom vs. Root Cause

For most of the problem, we don’t dwell to the root cause. We consider the symptoms as the root cause. In the above example, lack of knowledge of employees was just a symptom. Same goes with all of us in our lives as well. Yesterday there was a gas leakage from AC in my home. This happened the third time in seven months. We initially thought that we needed to replace the AC as it is now 12 years older and started to give up. When dwelling to the root cause, I noticed that the real problem is much less complicated. The gas was leaking because the insulation of wire was melted and touched the gas pipe, which in turn melted the pipe as well. We fixed the problem by buying new wires which cost us less than 5 dollars. If we mistakenly considered the symptom (AC needs to be replaced) as the root cause, I would have spent 500 dollars which could have been fixed by 5 dollars.

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