Originally created in the Toyota Corporation by Sakichi Toyoda as part of the Toyota Production System, the five whys is a simple yet effective tool for driving to the root cause of an issue. In utilizing the five whys, state the issue and then ask “Why?” Once you have a satisfactory answer, again ask “Why?” to the answer. Repeat asking “why” until you have discovered the root cause. Generally speaking asking “why” five times is sufficient to determine the root cause. For example, 1.) Why was the wrong product shipped to the customer? Because the sku in the catalog was incorrect. 2.) Why was the sku incorrect? Because the error wasn’t caught in final proofing. 3.) Why wasn’t the error caught in proofing? Because too few people are part of the proofing process. 4.) Why are too few people part of the proofing process? Because the draft was delivered late to the team. 5.) Why was the draft delivered late? Product marketing was late in providing final information to the catalog team. This error was really caused by product marketing being late with information. Of course, “why” could be asked several more times in this example before a satisfactory solution could be found.
The five whys is frequently used in very process oriented systems, such as manufacturing, but it also fits very nicely in marketing and strategy development. Consider trying to discover why a consumer prefers a competitive product (see below for the first level of questioning). Use field sales, customer service, management, analysts and insights team to pick the top two or three reasons why the customer prefers the competition. Then for each answer, do some research. For example, competitively shop your competition and determine how your organization’s pricing measures up. Then for each researched answer, ask the most relevant “why” question. Repeat until you have several paths of root causes for your team to provide solutions.
The five whys can also be used to build a solid story for marketing or social media campaigns? Start with why the customer would care about the story. Several levels and frequently the root of the customer’s motivation will present itself. Build your campaign to communicate directly to your customer’s root motivation.
Another use would be to determine target customers and best methods for reaching them. For example, why are Boomers less likely to use our product than Gen X? Or why are women more likely than men to use our product.