This is a story about solving problems through the Five-Why’s and learning to master problem solving.  This is a simple but very effective technique used around the world by some of the world’s largest companies.

Mrs. Jensen’s window order

We’ve all been there. Joe from section 5 said he is missing the “3CT9 report” and until he has the 3CT9, there is nothing you can do to get on with your quarterly report to HQ!  You might as well shrug your shoulders and go home because there is no 3CT9 report in front of you, so that’s the end of the story.

LIKEWISE… If you own your own shop serving the public there is nothing more frustrating than placing an order for a new customer and being told “Mrs. Jensen’s order for her house windows can’t be made because the factory said they don’t have enough supplies”. A lost contract, a lost costumer and a poor reputation are all staring you in the face right now!

What are you to do?

We encounter problems with flow, delivery and job completion everyday in our lives; it doesn’t matter what job you have, what industry you work in, or even what area/section you work within our company, everyone faces barriers (small and larger) every single day.

One of the tools to break through the day-to-day barriers, {or as we like to call them a ‘Temporary No’} is a simple tool that comes from Six Sigma Methodologies (a process improvement group of tools):


More specifically FIVE of them!

The Five-Why’s is a technique used in the Analyze phase of the Six Sigma DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) methodology. … By repeatedly asking a simple question with “Why” you can peel away the layers of symptoms which can lead to the root cause of a problem.

Here's a link for an interesting read on the history of Six Sigma and The Motorola Company

The key is to be gentle and caring in your approach when asking why.  No shouting, or condescending approach will work.  When using this approach you must be transparent and open to learning about the true reasons for each interference. A simple “why” will help most people analyze the true-root of the problem and usually the process can continue as the barriers are eliminated.  Interestingly sometimes the issues are solved slowly and other times can be solved with ease and speed.

A Five-Why Example:

YOU: “Thanks for letting me know about Mrs. Jensen’s window order, Bob, but why can’t we make the custom windows for her again”?

BOB: “Well we just heard about the order and she needs some odd shaped windows and I just don’t think we can make those windows within the time period that she is asking for”

YOU: “OH, ok, thanks. So why is the custom sizing of the windows an issue this time for this order but we do so many other odd shaped windows for other orders”?

BOB: “Well we usually could make these in time, but as you know we were short on our supplies delivery this week”.

YOU: “Bob, do we know why we were short on our supplies delivery this week”?

BOB: “I think Joe, over in the ordering department, didn’t send an order form in to our supplier last week”.

YOU: “Why didn’t Joe send in any form to the supplier”?

As you can see, the onion peels and the real barriers become workable…. This example only took 3 of the Five-Why’s.  This conversation could go in so many different ways; the Five-Why’s is a simple yet very effective tool to dig out and help you understand root problems to achievement of your work.

BOB: ” Well sometimes we send in an order form and sometimes we don’t… I’m not sure – I don’t know what we usually do”.


BOB: “Well, you directed us not to to do weekly orders anymore so we did as directed”


BOB: “He didn’t send an order in because no one confirmed Mrs Jensen’s custom order”


BOB: “Joe was sick all last week and so I don’t think anyone does the ordering when he is away”


AS you can see – this conversation can go in many different directions, and that is ok.  What matters is delving into why each action or possibolty occurred under each circumstance and learning from opportunity.  You will have the opportunity to improved service, reputation, sales, and likely reduce stress and friction in your worksite.

So let’s wrap this up….

YOU:  I will go and speak with Joe and ask why there wasn’t any order form sent in to our supplier, and in the meantime, can you follow up with our supplier right now and see if we can get what we need on a rush delivery so we can make Mrs Jensen’s windows for her?  Its really important that we look after our customer as best we can”!

Try it today – ask Why

The ‘Temporary No’  will soon become a ‘Permanent Yes’ 

WHY don’t you go try it today?!