5 Whys And The Fish Bone Theory: A Quick Way To Find Solutions

October 25, 2022

As you go about your daily operations, you are bound to hit a few snags. Any organization or strategy could run into unforeseen issues.  Problems, however, are just indications of more serious problems. Finding a quick fix to your issues can help you in the short run, but to shield your workflow from persistent errors, you will need to take a deep dive into the problems plaguing your organization.  The most viable solution is to focus on finding the root problem and appropriately addressing it.

It takes time and wastes valuable resources to handle the same issue repeatedly if it keeps coming up. The problem is that the underlying cause is not being found or dealt with. If you are only treating a symptom of the issue, you are not addressing the underlying cause. Additionally, if a long-term fix is not found and put into place, the issue will recur eventually. There is a straightforward tool that can assist in preventing recurring issues. The 5 Whys is this tool.

One of the most powerful root cause analysis methods in the management toolbox is the five whys technique. Every team, by applying the 5 Whys, can identify the source of any problem and protect the operation from repeating errors and failures.

Origin of the 5 Whys

Mr. Sakichi Toyoda, one of the founding fathers of Japan's industrial revolution and the creator of Toyota Industries, conceptualized the 5 Whys method in the 1930s.  Toyota and numerous other major businesses and organizations still employ this strategy today. The 5 whys method first gained popularity in the 1970s.

Making an informed choice is one of the crucial components of the technique's successful application. This implies that the decision-making process must be grounded in a precise understanding of what transpires on the work front.

In other words, people with real-world experience should be a part of the root cause analysis process. They should be able to provide you with the most useful knowledge on any issue that arises in their field of expertise.

Application of the 5 Whys Analysis

The 5 Whys process uses a process of posing the question ‘why’ 5 times and answering those questions till the root cause of the problem is established or there is no way further. The benchmark is 5, but this number can be more or less based on the problem and situation at hand. 

  1. Define the Problem

The first step during a root cause investigation is to clearly define the problem and develop a clear and concise problem statement. This process should be done with the least amount of bias. The team should also determine the scope of the problem to be addressed.

The gravitas of the scope does play an important role and identifying this is crucial. When larger, broader improvements are required, the issue-solving exercise may produce tiny benefits if the scope is too limited. On the other hand, identifying the issue too broadly could make it take longer to find a solution and produce ideas that might not match the organizational mission or strategy and may never be implemented. When you spend the time to define the issue clearly, it makes the whole process much easier and less convoluted

  1. Address the ‘Whys’

It is important to let one person take the lead in answering the whys. This way everyone involved in the process can be up to date and the process can carry on without many hiccups. The number of whys should be based on the answer that resolves the question of why the problem might have occurred and further justification isn’t required. 

Note: You don't necessarily have to ask "Why" five times. The third or fourth "Why" could reveal the underlying cause. Getting past the problem's symptoms and the source of the issue may also take longer than five times. In addition, by the third, fourth, or fifth "Why," you may have found a systemic issue or a managerial technique to be the root of the problem.

Determine and carry out corrective measures

A list of relevant corrective activities for each root cause should be established after the root cause has been identified. 5 Developing action plans to fix the issue and brainstorming remedies to the underlying reasons is a beneficial technique. How might this cause be stopped or found? Ask "How" again and again until you find the answer that addresses the fundamental issue.

Regular team meetings should be held to update everyone on the progress of the actions until they are all finished executing the solutions. The effectiveness of the suggested actions should be assessed after they have been carried out. To verify the efficacy of any improvements, the process could be tracked and measured using statistical process control (SPC), part inspection, or other techniques.

An example of 5 whys

This is an example of the 5 Whys in action.

Problem statement – We didn’t send the latest newsletter to our donors on time. 

  • Why didn’t we send the newsletter on time? Because the template was not ready on time
  • Why was the template not ready on time? Because the designer received the email content late
  • Why was the email content not ready? Because the content writer couldn’t finish the newsletter on time. 
  • Why did the content writer take so long? Because she had to wait for the financial data. 
  • Why did she have to wait for the financial data? Because a proper account wasn’t being recorded.

The problem's root causes are made clear. There is a good chance that addressing the core problem will automatically resolve all of the factors that contributed to the final answer.

Tools for five whys

The Five Whys test can be completed simply by writing it down on a sheet of paper. The fishbone diagram, however, can be helpful in the early stages of problem identification. The diagram can highlight issues requiring closer examination using the five whys. The relationships between the underlying causes and their effects may then all be gathered, and you can assess which of them had the biggest influence on the initial issue.

The 5 Whys with respect to NGOs

With respect to your NGO and how you can create a system of measurement, a simple and non-scientific way would be to consider why you are doing what you are doing. Asking this simple question will help you understand your short-term and medium-term outcomes. Once this is figured out, you can move on to asking why your participants want to participate in your organization; considering that their whys might be different from your whys. Trying to understand why your participants are interested in engaging with you will be a good factor to keep in mind while measuring your outcomes. 

Similarly, your funders' reasons for wanting to invest in your organization might be different, so asking ‘why’ they are interested in funding you will be a good way for you to set goals for your organization and review the direction you are headed in. If you are able to understand what it is that your partners expect and analyze whether your programs are tailored to have an outcome that aligns with their expectations, communicating them would prove to be a point of measurement. As Sheri Chaney Jones of SureImpact said, “The most powerful metrics are those that will speak to your whys, your participants whys, and your funders whys.”

What is the Fishbone diagram?

The Ishikawa Diagram, commonly referred to as the Fishbone Diagram, is a visual method of problem-solving developed by Japanese quality control specialist Kaoru Ishikawa. The Fishbone Diagram is a useful tool for the causal analysis of organizational processes. It helps people find potential causes of issues and is a particularly useful brainstorming tool when there is a block in problem-solving or when there is a lack of quantitative data.

Though the diagram is primarily used in manufacturing, healthcare sectors, and labs, to measure and point out cause-effect relationships, it also aids in problem-solving to perfection by identifying the main causes, and contributing elements, and analyzing them. The diagrams aid in focusing teams' efforts on problem-solving by providing answers to queries about the main cause of an occurrence or the variables that contribute the greatest variability in a system.

Creating a fishbone diagram

By drawing a fishbone diagram, it is possible to identify the fundamental cause of an issue, hidden linkages between causes and effects, process bottlenecks, and potential improvement areas. Below is a description of how to make a fishbone diagram.

  1. Identify the problem statement: The concerned members and stakeholders should decide on a problem statement first.  This statement is displayed at the top of the illustration (fishbone skeleton). The diagram will have an arrow horizontally pointing to the head (the fish backbone).
  2. Brainstorm the main reasons for the problem: To help with the brainstorming process, the 6Ms framework is used to classify the causes of the issue like manpower, method, machine, material, medium, and measurement. Arrows pointing to the fish's backbone are represented as the bones of the categories.
  3. Identify all potential causes: The analysis team should identify contributing causes for each main cause category using root cause analysis techniques like the 5 Whys. On the diagram, these are shown as branches of the fish's bones. When sub-causes are identified, layered bones are created that illustrate the causal relationships.
  4. Analyze the diagram: Using why-questions, the team examines all significant and supporting causes. The brainstorming process shifts to sections of the diagram with fewer ideas if the underlying cause of the reported problem is still unidentified.

Example of a Fishbone Diagram

To Conclude

Tools such as 5 whys and the fishbone theory are helpful when it comes to identifying a challenge and rooting it out. But you don’t have to sweat out a solution alone. 

Chezuba is a platform that connects talented individuals who want to do their part for the betterment of society. With over 3000 successful projects completed for a wide array of nonprofits’ needs, you can find an online volunteer to help you with the problem-solving process for free. Sign up with Chezuba as a nonprofit today and watch your nonprofit flourish. 

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