#1 – Issues with 5 Why’s

Why did the root cause analysis yield unwanted results?

Why did the root cause analysis yield unwanted results?

The top Lean Leadership post of 2012 is about a very popular topic, the 5-Why Root Cause Analysis.  You’ll notice that several of the top all time Lean Leadership posts are also on this topic.  This one is titled

4 Issues with 5-Why

John is driving to the plant earlier than usual today. He is thinking to himself that his days just keep getting longer since being promoted to Production Manager. John isn’t even half-way to the plant when his cell phone starts ringing. Terry, the Third Shift Supervisor is calling to tell John the filler on the priority line is down.

John asks, “What is it this time?”

Terry: “That’s the bad part. We lost a drive belt again and it was the last one.  We are going to have to rush one in here just to get the line going again.”

John:  “I can’t believe it!  We just did a 5-Why on that.  I led the team myself and was sure we had a good solution….”

While many people find the 5-Why Root Cause Analysis tool to be very effective in finding the root causes, it’s not going to solve every issue on the first try.  There are many reasons why it may not work.  It’s important to note that this is part of the learning process, especially if the 5-Why is a new tool to the team.  A few of the more common issues that inhibit the success of a 5-Why include:

  • Inadequate understanding of the issue:  Go to the scene of the crime and see what happened to the extent that it is possible.
  • Preconceived answers to the problem:  Sometimes they are right.  Sometimes they are not.  I am particularly wary of 5-Why’s that go directly to an answer discussed prior to the analysis.  Encourage your team to consider other possibilities.
  • Multiple root causes:  There are often multiple root causes.  While sporadic issues may have just one, chronic issue almost always have multiple root causes.  This is another reason to urge your team to consider all possibilities.
  • Ineffective countermeasures:  Teams that are able to determine the root cause can usually find good countermeasures.  Check to see if the countermeasures are implemented properly.

As John and his team saw with their filler drive belt, doing a 5-Why Analysis is not guarantee that the problem is solved.  There will be times when you have to modify the countermeasures.  You may even have to go back to the drawing board and do the 5-Why again.  Follow-up is critical as discussed in  7 Steps to 5-Why.  You should have a PDCA Cycle mindset to ensure success.  Do you have examples of 5-Why’s that did not solve the issue on the first try?


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About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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2 Responses to #1 – Issues with 5 Why’s

  1. Kaiya Iverson says:

    Good points to remember about 5-whys no matter how much experience you have.

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