avatarHardik Raval

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How Toyota’s Method Transformed My Approach to Problem Solving

A Closer Look at the Impactful 5 Whys Technique

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In our lives, we encounter many problems that won’t go away easily.

Sooner or later, they come back to haunt us in a different form, no matter what we do to solve them.

They are more like a balloon that pops too soon.

It’s like drying a wet floor without repairing the leaking roof.

There are many instances where I’ve been excited by the idea of a quick fix, only to scratch my head and wonder why it didn’t work.

These problems are persistent and recurring and are often the symptoms of deeper issues.

We can try to apply some “quick fixes,” but that only solves the surface problem.

We spend more time and resources than we could otherwise use to address the root cause.

Everyone has unique challenges, and the trick that worked for me may not work for everyone.

These superficial solutions skip the crucial phase of problem-solving, which is root cause analysis.

As a software developer for over 15 years, I can easily apply this phenomenon to problems in life.

For a software programmer, finding and fixing errors in the code is a routine task that requires a thorough root cause analysis.

Incorrect analysis can easily mess up the entire code base and, ultimately the software.

Recently, I tried an old and effective method to find the root of the problem, the “5 Whys Method”.

With this technique, you have to ask yourself the question ‘why” five times (or more if necessary) to find the actual trigger or cause of the problems.

It sounds so simple, but it’s a powerful hack that will likely help you resolve the problems in your life, career, or relationships.

Do you procrastinate? Ask yourself why you need to find out what the trigger was.

Are you tired all the time? Ask yourself why to find out why is it so.

Can’t seem to avoid social media? Ask why to find out why that is.

You didn’t pass the exam or interview? Ask why to find out what went wrong.

Important decision? Ask why to thoroughly analyze the risks and all the ifs and buts.

Can’t break a bad habit? Ask why to find out why you can’t stick to your decision.

These are some of the most common problems we face in our daily lives.

This method can also be applied to larger problems.

This technique works brilliantly when we can’t figure out what’s wrong with a situation or see no way out.

This hack has become my most important tool for overcoming challenges or making important decisions.

I’ll show how this technique can be effective for anyone facing challenges in their career, side hustle, or life.

What Is the 5 Whys Method?

The 5 Whys technique was originally developed at Toyota Motor Corporation by Sakichi Toyoda.

It’s an important part of the problem-solving training conducted as part of the introduction to the Toyota Production System.

The architect of the Toyota Production System, Taiichi Ohno, described the Five Whys method as “the foundation of Toyota’s scientific approach, in which by repeating the why five times, the nature of the problem and its solution become clear.”

Five Whys (or 5 Whys) is an iterative questioning technique for exploring the underlying cause-effect relationships of a particular problem.

In this technique, the root cause of a problem or situation is identified by repeating the question “Why?” five times.

In most cases, the answer to the fifth “why” should reveal the root cause of a problem.

However, for more serious problems, it can be taken to a sixth or higher level.

Let’s take an example of a problem I mentioned earlier: failing an exam.

Why? — I failed an exam.

Why? — I did not prepare well for some subjects.

Why? — I find it difficult to understand these subjects.

Why? — I missed some important lectures and practicals.

Why? — I spent time outside with friends instead of attending classes.

In this particular situation, the fifth ‘why’, spending time outside, seems to be one of the main reasons for failing an exam.

When we apply this method, we usually come up with the classic answers such as lack of time, money, or resources.

These answers are correct to a certain extent, but they do not solve the problem.

Instead of asking why something failed, we should ask why the process of doing something failed.

Knowing My Why

Imagine you’re in a team meeting and someone asks: “Why does the customer want this function?”

The usual answer?

Instead of settling for vague answers, ask “why” not just once but five times.

I started doing this when I was faced with big decisions or when stress came knocking at my door.

Questions like “Why is this stressing me out?” or “Why am I choosing this strategy?” got me thinking.

It wasn’t just about finding solutions, it was like turning on a light bulb in a dark room.

I saw things and understood why I was making some choices, and it was like a little epiphany.

It wasn’t just about fixing things but about understanding myself better.

This hack is for more than just work.

It can also be applied to life coaching.

Imagine you have a coach who helps you untangle your thoughts by asking the “why” questions.

It’s like shining a flashlight on your thought process.

In these coaching sessions, you realize where you can grow — personally and professionally.

With each “Why,” I found answers and a roadmap to becoming a better version of myself.

“The 5 Whys” isn’t just a problem-solver; it’s like having a wise friend nudging you towards a better, clearer you.

Limitations of this method

Imagine you’re facing a challenge, for example, you feel incredibly overwhelmed or stressed.

“The 5 Whys” does a great job of tackling issues, but life isn’t always all questions and answers.

If your problems are a jumble of different reasons, The 5 Whys may lose the details.

And you know, every tool in the toolbox has its characteristics.

Treating “The 5 Whys” like an extremely strict rule could limit your style and take away your freedom to think outside the box.

It’s more like a buddy you call when you get stuck, rather than the bossy friend who tells you what to do.

So overall, “The 5 Whys” is like that friend who usually has your back, but may not have all the answers when life really throws you a curveball.

It’s practical, but just like us, it has its limitations.

Final Words

Life’s problems often persist because we opt for quick fixes that don’t get to the root cause.

Asking “Why?” five times helps uncover the superficial issues' core problems.

The method isn’t only suitable for work but also for life coaching.

Despite their limitations, the “5 Whys” are a reliable companion that provides clarity on the path to self-improvement uncomplicated.

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Life Lessons
Productivity
Problem Solving
Self-awareness
Motivation
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