One of the quickest, simplest approaches to performing root cause analysis (finding the answers for why something happened the way it did) is to use the 5 whys technique. Using this approach, you write a statement that contains the problem or question you want to resolve. Next you ask ‘why?’ to the statement and write the answer. If that is not the root or cause you’re looking for, you ask ‘why?’ and continue to answer the question ‘why’ until you get to the root cause and can go no further.
Sakichi Toyoda, a Japanese industrialist and founder of Toyota, first starting using the 5 Whys technique in the 1930s. The Toyota company used it to make significant progress in their manufacturing processes in the 1970s and continue using it today. The folks at MindTools recommend the technique as a simple, effective way to find answers to complex problems. Each time you ask ‘why?’ look for an answer that is grounded in fact. Keep asking ‘why?’ until you feel confident you have identifed the root cause and can go no further. The significance of the number 5 is that’s the average number of times you need to ask ‘why?’ to get to the root cause.
As a leader, you do (or will) need to get to the root of issues quickly. You will do yourself a favor by learning the 5 whys technique and using it reqularly.
The Product Management Perspective: The 5 whys technique is useful for product managers in many aspects of the job. Determining whether a market opportunity for a product will become profitable is one of the most valuable uses I’ve found for this technique. Ask ‘why?’ customers need your (proposed) product enough times to know whether you have a solid market opportunity.