Get to the Root of a Problem

7 min

But the National Park Service didn’t just get rid of the cleaning chemicals. Instead, they found another solution:

Turning on the monument lights later at night.

How do you think they got to that solution?

The surface-level causes you find in your investigation may not tell the whole story.


That's why you have to continue asking why until you find the root causes.

Here's how you dig deeper to find root causes:

1. Use the Five Whys

"The Five Whys" is a technique developed at Toyota that helps you get at the root cause of any problem.

It's simple. You just ask why.

It won't take five whys every time. If you find yourself going to absurd places – things you can't possibly control - you've probably gone too far.

2. Document your root causes

Write down your root causes. They're the real reasons behind your problem. They're what you want to solve.

So in our earlier example, one root cause of the car not starting is:

The car hasn't had a tune-up in years.

Let's practice.

You have a problem: you spent $300 on lunches last month. Way over your budget.

You find a surface-level cause for this problem: You stopped packing your lunch at the end of last month.

When you do the Five Whys on this cause, it looks like this:

  • When you do the Five Whys on this cause, it looks like this:
  • Because meal prep is really difficult. Why?
  • Because I can't cook one-pot meals. Why?
  • Because my multi-cooker broke. Why?
  • Because the manufacturer shipped it with a faulty pressure valve. Why?
  • Because they severed a relationship with one of their suppliers.

Quiz 1 of 1

When should you have stopped asking "why?"

a
Because I can't cook one-pot meals.
b
Because my multi-cooker broke.
c
Because the manufacturer shipped it with a faulty pressure valve.
d
Because they severed a relationship with one of their Chinese suppliers.

There's not much you can do about the supplier shipping faulty parts. Or their relationship with suppliers. The multi-cooker breaking is a root cause you can handle.

TAKE THE NEXT STEP:

Use the Five Whys on one a surface-level cause you identify when you investigate a problem.

Record the root causes you find.

Lesson complete

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