The 5 Question Method of Problem Solving
Business & Leadership Behaviors Project Management Thoughts

The 5 Question Method of Problem Solving

We’re facing many BIG problems these days.  There’s the pandemic, economic issues, election year craziness.  Then there’s also every day, just trying to navigate our businesses and our lives safely mission (exacerbated by all of the aforementioned nationwide stuff, of course).  And to top it off, there are no simple solutions.

While things are overwhelming, I am confident that we will get through all of this.  I’m also convinced that there are things that are within our control that can positively influence these situations.


The 5 Question Method

I recently came across an article by Bill Murphy, Jr. that offered a good reminder that sometimes simple processes provide the best next steps.  The 5 Question Method – or “5 Whys” as it’s often referred – is one of those practices.  If you’ve done any kind of Six Sigma, Kanban, or other efficiency work, you’re probably familiar with this approach.

The 5 Question method was developed by Sakichi Toyoda and is part of the Toyota Production System.  The gist of it is that when facing a problem, by repeating “why” five times, you can get past symptoms to reveal the root cause – and the solution – of the problem.


So how can the 5 Whys help today?

It should be a relief to you (as it is to me) that I am not being called on to help solve our nation’s biggest problems.  However, a very large part of my role as a project manager (albeit on a much, much, smaller scale) is breaking down problematic situations into workable pieces.

We all can positively chip away at the broader issues by addressing what’s in our reach.  As the saying goes, “control what you can control”.  Using the 5 Question method, you can more clearly identify the problems in your prevue and how those problems may be resolved.


Using the 5 Questions in Our World

Our mobilePLUS solution is all about solving data problems that influence more significant organizational situations.  For example, a client may be seeking to solve a financial problem:

Issue:  We are over budget

  • Why? We overspent on tools
  • Why? We add a buffer for spares
  • Why? We can’t find our equipment when we need it
  • Why? We don’t have accurate tool inventory information telling us what we have & where we have it
  • Why? The inventory takes too much time to do, so it isn’t being done correctly or on time

If you add an effective automated solution (like mobilePLUS, in my biased opinion), you’ll be able to collect accurate inventory data efficiently.  Then, you can find your equipment when you need it and minimize the need for spares.  If you don’t need the spares, you won’t need to add to your spending with replacements for unfound tools.  That will resolve that negative impact on your budget and help get it under control.


It doesn’t matter how well-thought-out your plans are – problems crop up.  Many of these problems may have come well beyond anything we could have anticipated (like a pandemic).  However, we all have the ability in any situation to take a step back and use approaches like the 5 Question method to separate symptoms from actionable problems that we can solve.

Remember to control what you can control.

And call your mother – she worries.

See – we already found a problem we can solve.