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  • Writer's pictureEva Jenisch

Getting to the root of the problem with 5W


I would like to return once again to a simple but effective method from the Lean toolbox - namely, the five Ws. The invention of the method is attributed to Toyoda Sakichi, the founder of the car manufacturer Toyota.


What do the five Ws stand for? The five Ws stand for asking five times Why in order to identify the real cause - and in so doing to truly be able to solve the problem. The basic idea is not to settle for the first explanation of a problem, but to dig deeper. Originally, this method was intended for root cause analysis of issues in technical areas. Today, 5W is used as part of a cause-effect analysis or during a Gemba Walk.


It works best if 5W is carried out together in a team, as this allows different perspectives to flow into the problem analysis. First of all, you should describe the problem and, if available, have numbers, data and facts at hand. The results can be clearly documented in an Ishikawa diagram, especially for more complex problems.


This method can also be used well in many other areas. For instance, I once cooked a curry that didn't taste good at all:

1. Why is the curry not tasty? – it is too sweet.

2. Why is the curry too sweet? – it is probably from the coconut milk.

3. Why is the coconut milk sweetened? – because I accidentally took the wrong can.

4. Why did I take the wrong can? – because a can of sweet coconut milk was next to the supply of regular coconut milk.

5. Why was the can in the wrong place? – because I accidentally bought the wrong product.


One could go into even more depth with this example. As a solution to the problem, I intend to pay more attention when shopping for groceries. Now I always reach for the same coconut milk brand.


An error, obstacle or problem can arise anytime. If you identify the root cause, you can address the real problem. Ask questions. Do this several times. Get to the root cause with the 5W-Analysis!


As Confucius once said, “He who knows all the answers has not been asked all the questions.”


Are you regularly using 5W in your organization or for yourself?

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