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The ‘5 Whys’ Of Lean: Drilling Down To The Problem

Updated: Jan 11

The ‘5 whys’ is a tool used predominantly for Lean problem-solving. It involves root cause

analysis (RCA), which allows manufacturers to drill down into the actual core of the issue.

This article will share more on what the ‘5 whys’ is, how to use the technique, and some

examples of it in practice.

The ‘5 Whys’ Of Lean: Drilling Down To The Problem

Introduction to ‘5 whys’

The tool is all about asking 'why' to probe deeper into the issue, and ultimately get to its

root cause. When embedded in Continuous Improvement methodologies like Kanban, the

Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, and Heijunka (load levelling), the ‘5 whys’ can increase

the effectiveness of Lean problem-solving.

It doesn’t just establish issues but shapes sustainable solutions and increases operational

efficiency, allowing manufacturing businesses to step closer to Continuous Improvement

and Organisational Excellence.

Steps to perform ‘5 whys’ analysis

1) Identify the problem.

2) Ask the first “why”: Why did this problem occur?

3) Probe deeper with subsequent whys: Each answer brings about other, important

questions, helping you to navigate through the complexity of the issue.

4) Uncover the root cause: This happens when you’re certain of the problem's source.

5) Develop and implement a solution to fix it.

Case studies: Successful problem-solving with ‘5 whys

Case studies: Successful problem-solving with ‘5 whys’

Let’s explore a couple of example scenarios where the ‘5 whys’ would make a tangible


Example 1: Delays due to a lack of up-to-date knowledge

A manufacturing line was consistently haemorrhaging time because of constant delays. The

team used the ‘5 whys’ method to establish the root cause:

● Why 1: Why are there recurring delays? There was a pattern of machinery


● Why 2: Why are the machines consistently malfunctioning? There were lapses in

regular maintenance schedules.

● Why 3: Why are the maintenance plans not followed? The team often addressed

issues they were familiar with, overlooking several preventative procedures.

● Why 4: Why is the maintenance workforce neglecting preventative measures? They

didn’t have up-to-date knowledge on maintaining the new machinery, leading to

ineffective protocols.

● Why 5: Why doesn’t the team have the latest maintenance knowledge? There was a

gap in ongoing training and education, which highlighted the root cause: a lack of

regular, updated educating to keep pace with evolving technologies.

The manufacturer then designed a robust training and education programme, including managment training within the company aimed at rectifying and improving the knowledge base of their maintenance workforce.

Example 2: Productivity problems owing to unmanageable workloads

A manufacturer was experiencing issues with team productivity on the production line.

Management employed the ‘5 whys’ to pinpoint and fix the issue:

● Why 1: Why has productivity declined? The team wasn’t working to the standard

they once were.

● Why 2: Why aren’t they meeting their previous standard? Staff morale was very low,

impacting their productivity.

● Why 3: Why is staff morale so low? They were grappling with erratic schedules and

unmanageable workloads.

● Why 4: Why are schedules inconsistent and workloads unmanageable? There was a

lack of stability and predictability in rota creation and task allocation.

● Why 5: Why is there instability in scheduling and task assignment? There wasn’t an

effective system for managing workloads and schedules.

They implemented Heijunka (load levelling) to create balanced, predictable work schedules

and tasks. This empowered the team to perform their best and nurtured a more positive

working environment. Inevitably, this helped to increase productivity.

Understand how to use the ‘5 whys’ with Manufacturers Network

For effective Lean problem-solving, the ‘5 whys’ plays a crucial role. And it’s complemented

by other tools in manufacturing, like Kanban, the PDCA cycle, and Heijunka. Together, they

form a robust and sustainable methodology that allows manufacturers to tackle the

challenges that the industry presents.

To learn more about the ‘5 whys’ or sign up for one of our courses, please contact us:

● Phone: 0161 533 1617

● Email:

● Get in touch online

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