Success and the Shy Girl Podcast

The Five Whys


Aug 2, 2018


how a simple big business tool could transform your small business

If you are anything like us, you like free tools. And you probably like free tools that are so simple to use, you don’t even need a complicated worksheet to do it. We’re about to share a phenomenal one that is used in big business daily. And this tool could help transform your small business.

when things go wrong

When you run a small business, things are bound to go awry at some point. It’s pretty much the only guarantee as an entrepreneur – things are going to go sideways, upside down and inside out (but hopefully not all at once). We’re strong believers in finding the lesson in every failure – and not dwelling in the outcome. Dwelling on the outcome when things haven’t quite gone as planned is not the hill you want to let your business die on; you’ll end up resentful and likely unmotivated to ever try again.

If you’ve ever said “I’ve tried it all and I’m just lousy at this”, we’re here to tell you that you’re wrong. Want to know why things go wrong in business?

A breakdown in process. When things go horribly wrong, people are not to blame – a breakdown in process is. And once more for those of you who don’t believe us…

When things go horribly wrong, people are not to blame – a breakdown in process is.

How do we know this? Because people who are much smarter than we are have figured this out through years of research and practical application in process and business problem solving.

So STOP blaming yourself, the universe or your cranky great aunt who insulted you last Thanksgiving (even if she is a horrible person) for something that hasn’t gone to plan in your business. Something happened from point A (your plan) to point B (your undesired outcome) and this tool will help you figure out what that was.

The five whys – it’s not rocket science

We’ve got zero beefs with rocket science – it’s actually amazing and we love our fellow science nerds. But let’s be honest here – most of it is far above our understanding level.

Fortunately the Five Whys is easy to understand. The whole tool is literally five whys.

If you’re into process and policy development and analysis (like the weirdo writing this – it’s cool, I’ve embraced my weird), then this is not a new tool. It comes from Lean Six Sigma (you can search that  if you want to learn more) – but the tool is meant to uncover root cause.

By root cause we mean – what caused an event, not who caused an event. So when you’re asking why – stay away from avoiding blame. That part isn’t easy. Humans want to assign blame – it’s in our nature. But if you want a solid solution to your business problem, you need to stay away from it.

It’s simple to use.

1. Define the problem and then ask why the problem occurred/is occurring.
2. Answer your first why. And then ask why again.
3. Repeat the process until you’ve asked why five times in total.

What you end up with after your fifth why might surprise you. But it’s going to give you some direction in terms of solution.

The five Whys in Action

We want to give you an example so you can see how this works. 

The Problem: The last 10 widgets I sent got broken in transit to my customers.
Why? There was not enough padding in the box to protect the widgets.
Why? We ran out of padding and tried to make do with what we had.
Why? The last time we ordered supplies, we didn’t order padding.
Why? Our supply inventory list was out of date so we weren’t aware it was low.
Why? The person whose job it was to maintain the supply inventory list left the company and the task was not reassigned to another employee.

Bingo! There’s your solution – assign the supply inventory list maintenance to someone else to avoid your widgets breaking in the future.

Now – of course, not every business issue you run up against is going to be so neat and tidy, but the five whys provide an excellent framework for exploring process issues and finding solutions.


So – we encourage you to go and act like a toddler and ask why. A lot. It’s going to help uncover issues you may not have even known existed.

We would love to know what you think of this or if you’ve used this technique in your own business. Drop us a comment below and let us know!



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