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October 2017
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The 5 Whys and 5 Hows – When Clarity Is Just Two Questions Away

Finding the "Why"s and "How"s behind your actions

Nick from SwipNick from Swip

By now you should know, how to constantly get better at everything, right?(If not, here is how) Good. This time, I will present you with two powerful Kaizen tools. They are perfect to kick-start your journey to continuous improvement. I present to you “The 5 Whys And The 5 Hows“.

Here are just a few things you will achieve using them:

They are applicable pretty much everywhere. This is part of what makes them so powerful.

Are you ready? Let’s attack it!

the-5-whys-beginning

“The 5 Whys” – A path to clarity

What will I be able to do by learning it?

The 5 Whys is a pretty intuitive technique. It’s a simple, yet powerful, tool for finding the cause-effect relationship. In other words, you will know the exact reason why something has happened.

This technique requires three main ingredients:

By definition, this tool will let you find the root cause for problems in various areas. You can use it to find the reason for sluggish processes. Or you can use it to understand why someone would act in a certain way. Or even more powerfully – you can find the reason behind your own actions and feelings

learning-the-5-whys

Where does this come from?

The method was developed by Sakichi Toyoda as part of Toyota’s Just In Time(JIT) system. Taiichi Ohno, the father of “Lean Manufacturing”, referred to the 5 Whys as a “tool for making clear the nature of the problem as well as its solution”. Pretty smart guys right?

the-5-whys-creator

Ok, teach me the 5 Whys.

The way to apply this method is by asking 5 times the question “Why?”. A bit unclear? Bear with me – an example is coming.

By applying it, you are able to dig deeper into the cause of the problem. Here is a very trivial example.

Most people want a million dollars in the bank account.

99% of the people I’ve asked, don’t really know why they want it. And most of them don’t actually need it. Do you really need one million? Let’s check this out using the 5 Whys method.

Statement: “I want a million dollars.”

Why #1: Why do I want a million dollars?

Answer #1: “Because I want to be rich.”

Why #2: Why do I want to be rich?

Answer #2: “Because this way I will have enough money so I can quit my day job and travel.”

We can already see a clearer picture right? Let’s continue.

Why #3: Why do I want to quit my day job and travel?

Answer #3: “Because I want to see more new places and write about them.”

Why #4: Why do I want to see more new places and write about them?

Answer #4: “Because I want to share my knowledge with other people.”

Why #5: Why do I want to share my knowledge with others?

Answer #5: “Because it makes me feel fulfillment and happiness!”

the-5-whys-example

This is just an example, but you can see how the effect may be very different to the root cause. Finding a way to travel more while writing for your adventures sounds will bring you happiness. Million dollars are just one of many ways to do this. Evaluate your choices and wishes now!

Why it works

This is a good illustration on how the method could be applied in your daily life and business. When I get frustrated about my business or personal life I use the 5 Whys technique. I find the root cause of my frustration and tackle the problem instead of just being mad about something. It helps me see the bigger picture.

It is scientifically proven that the human mind can’t do very well with abstract or complex tasks. It’s the reason why we get overwhelmed when having to do something difficult. Our mind gets stuck and either blocks us or tries to distract us. By applying the 5 Whys method we are able to get unstuck. And then we patch the pieces together.

Do I need to ask the question exactly 5 times?

Don’t get too caught in asking the question “Why?” exactly 5 times. The exact number is not important. The important thing is for you to get to what you believe is the root cause. Often times 2-3 Whys are enough. Sometimes you’ll have to go up to 10 times. Record your answers in a spreadsheet or a paper. This way you can always go back and think it through. 

How to apply it?

The 5 Hows

the-5-hows-

What will I be able to do by learning it?

The 5 Hows technique is kind of the reverse to the 5 Whys.

While the 5 Whys will help you find the root cause of any problem, the 5 Hows will help you find a solution.  The two tools are complementary and when used together bring the best results. 

Where this comes from?

the-5-hows-coming-from

This technique was developed by… well … me.

I was trying to figure out a way to achieve a very specific goal for my work. By being a heavy user of the 5 Whys I knew that there must be a way to reverse the process. To be honest, I don’t know whether somebody else had drawn the same conclusion as me. If you know a similar concept and the person behind it, I would love to hear about it and collaborate on the matter.

The 5 Hows in action

It’s example time. This time let’s try with something more business related like “I want to improve my brand positioning, so it’s more recognized across my target market.”.

“I want to improve my brand positioning.”

How can I improve my brand positioning?

“By getting more quality exposure to my target audience.”

How?

“By communicating the right messages to the right people?”

How?

“By first understanding what these messages are and who is my target audience .”

How?

“By first making an analysis of my existing clients and their interests.”

How?

“By making a drill-down of this data from the analytics”

the-5-hows-in-action

This method can easily be used to achieve a certain market share, sales, revenue, followers on Twitter, etc. The sky is the limit. There isn’t right or wrong way to apply this method as long as it helps you get valuable information.

A great side-effect of this tool is that it provides you with a direction on how to approach any given challenge. Even the once you are not a specialist in the field of. Reversing the question flow can then be used as an action plan for achieving the goal in mind (pretty neat).

A piece of advice

As I mentioned earlier there isn’t right or wrong way to use the 5 Hows. The rule for not getting too caught in how many times you ask the question is valid here as well. Besides that, feel free to experiment and find the most convenient way for you.

the-5-hows-experiment

Another thing to have in mind is that often the first “How” is the one which is leading the direction, so just asking “How?” may not be sufficient. Try to expand the question as I did in the example by asking “How can I achieve goals X” instead of just “How?”. This way, you eliminate the abstract part in the answer and our brain could easily assimilate and react to the question.

What’s next?

Go back to the challenges you outlined in the previous section and try applying the “5 Hows” to find the steps to steps to solve them.

Things are better when working together

When both methods are combined you get the ultimate system for finding problems, opportunities, and solutions. These methods can be extremely useful for founders with non-business background who are not familiar with how to write a business, marketing, sales or another kind of plan. Simply ask “What do we need in order to become successful?” and then apply the 5 Hows method to find the steps leading to the goal. It is amazing how beautiful the simplicity is. You will instantly become leaner by eliminating the unnecessary complexity.

Final words

In Swip, we use this framework as a guiding light. You can see the early results of this framework in the tool itself.

“Why?” and “How?” are two of the simplest and at the same time most powerful questions you may ask. Once adopted, they give you a framework you can use to examine the world. You will start seeing solutions where others see problems. Everything will become clearer and easier to grasp. Knowing why and how you are doing something gives you clarity. Clarity is power!

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Founder of @SwipHQ. Growth guy passionate about creative ways of scaling businesses using #Lean.

Comments 2
  • Antoniya
    Posted on

    Antoniya Antoniya

    Reply Author

    Nick, I love the twist you added to this well-known technique! I’ve got some ongoing projects and I’m going to apply the 5 How’s right away to see how it’s going to work 🙂 Thanks for sharing great examples as well!


    • Nick from Swip
      Posted on

      Nick from Swip Nick from Swip

      Reply Author

      Hey, Antoniya! Thanks for getting back to us 🙂
      I’m really happy to hear that this post was useful to you. Feel free to ping us with your experience in applying the methods 🙂
      Cheers!