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There are two very different methods, both called Five Whys.

Method 1

Intended to find the ‘root cause’ of a problem. (This is based on the presupposition that all problems have root causes.) Ask “Why does this problem occur?” When you have an answer, ask “Why is this so?”, and repeat this procedure until you have asked “Why?” five times. The answer to the fifth “Why?” is likely to be the root cause.

Example

Problem: We are losing sales
Why? Because not enough customers are visiting our store
Why? Because our prices are too high
Why? Because our profit margins are high
Why? Because we have high overheads
Why? Because of shrinkage (pilfering by staff)

Method 2

Here once again the question “Why?” is asked five times but this time five different explanations are sought. In this way you don’t stop at the first explanation (as is the case with Method 1, but seek alternative explanations.

Example

Problem: We are losing sales
Why? Because not enough customers are visiting our store
Why? Because a competitor has opened up just down the road
Why? Because we’ve stopped advertising
Why? Because we don’t have enough staff to provide a good service
Why? Because our range of merchandise is too limited

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