Asking ‘Why?’ to solve business problems

March 30, 2017 By    

Asking “Why” over and over again could make us sound like a rebellious child. However, asking “Why?” in business will often lead to the root cause of a problem.

The “5 Whys” method was originally developed by the Toyota Motor Co. This is how it works. Let’s say you notice that one of your drivers is delivering less gallons than normal. So you ask the driver, “Why?” The answer to each “why” forms the basis for the next response.

The driver replies that he thinks he is delivering less gallons each day because he leaves late.


“My truck doesn’t always start.”


“The starter doesn’t engage, so another person and I spend up to 30 minutes each morning trying to start it.”


“It takes one person to manipulate the starter under the hood and another in the cab to start the engine.”


“We haven’t been following our maintenance schedule.”

Your persistent questioning has led you to the root cause of the problem: a faulty starter caused by poor maintenance. A small mechanical failure caused two people to be unproductive. By replacing the starter and actively following the maintenance schedule, you recover the wasted time it took for two people to work on the truck and you become more productive.

Notice that the final answer reveals a process that was not being followed. We have a process for everything – from brushing our teeth to setting the dinner table. The next time a problem arises, begin by asking “Why?” and work your way through the symptoms to discover the process that has been neglected.

Ken Albrecht is president of Reliable Propane in Clarence Center, New York. He can be reached at or 716-741-3000.

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