Do you get to the root cause of your small business problems? Or, like many do you revisit the same problems regularly?

The ‘5 Whys’ technique.

The Toyota Motor Company recognised that by asking the question “Why?” continuously of a problem that they would usually get to it’s root cause in five attempts.

Of course whilst the technique has become known as the ‘5 Whys’ this was just their observation. You may have your answer in three attempts or you may still be asking the question after 10 attempts. The essence of the ‘5 Whys’ is that it’s going to take you longer than you think to get to the root cause of a problem but that if you persevere you will.


“Sales are down this month.”


“Because orders taken on the internet are down.”


“Because the e-commerce shop was down for four days.”


“Because there was a software update from the supplier that caused our website to stop working and we couldn’t fix it.”


“Because you agreed that the only two people that know how to fix it could take their vacations at the same time.”


Health warning.

There is a health warning that comes with the ‘5 Whys’ technique which is that you may disappear down the rabbit hole never to be seen again. Just because someone gives you an answer to the question ‘Why?’ doesn’t mean that they are giving you an answer that gets you closer to the root cause.  For example, they may not be aware of all the information or they may have just noticed an unrelated coincidence and assumed it was the cause.


For all the warnings that should accompany it the ‘5 Whys’ remains the simplest technique to understand the root cause of a problem and given that The Toyota Motor Company is not known for it’s inefficiency maybe the ‘5 Whys’ is even the most efficient way of doing it.

Finally, ask any parent and you will find someone who knows that the human soul grows by asking the question ‘But why?’. So the next time you hit a problem in your small business start asking ‘But why?’ and set your business free.

© Business Set Free Ltd 2013

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