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The Five Whys


The Five Whys method was originally conceived by Taiichi Ohno, leader of the Toyota Product System in the 1950s. Ohno believed that “by repeating why five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.” He encouraged his teams to observe the production line and use the 5 whys method to get to the bottom of any issues they faced.

This iterative approach is useful well beyond production lines and even works in our personal lives! It enables us to solve root problems rather than symptoms. It also fosters cross-functional collaboration and innovation, and importantly, encourages a holistic approach to problem-solving.

To begin, invite everyone who might be relevant to a meeting.

Start with your surface-level problem. Once everyone in the room understands the problem, the context of the problem, and why it’s important, then you’re ready to go.

Getting the first why right can be tricky, but this is the one that sets the path for the others. While you might feel like you should cover all bases, it’s generally best to choose one and go with the flow.

If you get to the third why and realize you started wrong. Don’t panic. Just go back and start again with a different path.

The next time you are perplexed by a problem, WHY not try it?

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