Systems Problem Solving

There comes a time during the parental journey which I cheekily refer to now as the year of ‘the why’.

It’s the time when your child is about four years old, and why becomes their new favourite word.

‘But WHY mum?’

When we break it down, as annoying as it is, it’s a huge period of learning for the next generation. It’s when they start to question everything that is happening around them.

It’s also exactly what we should be doing when things go wrong with a system.

When a system or process isn’t working properly, it can be helpful to use the 5 Whys technique to help to solve the problem.

This technique was developed by Sakichi Toyoda (one of the fathers of the Japanese industrial revolution) and became popular in the 1970s. Toyota still uses this to solve its problems today.

Its philosophy is based on an in depth understanding on what is actually happening on the shop floor versus what someone in an office thinks might be happening.

Here’s how…



Write a brief but clear problem statement in the middle of a whiteboard or large piece of paper. For example ‘customer did not receive login to membership portal’.


Ask why the problem is occurring. For example – why did the customer not receive their login to the membership portal?

Asking why sounds simple but answering it requires thought. Answers will be things that have actually happened, not guesses at what might have happened.

Record every answer that you come up with under or around your problem statement.


For each answer provided to the original why ask four more whys in succession. Record every answer before asking the next why.


When asking why produces no more useful responses then you can go no further (by all means you can ask more than five whys if needed).

You should be able to clearly see by this point, what change to the process needs to happen to stop the problem from occurring again. Make the changes and monitor the results.

‘If I had 60 minutes to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes defining it, and 5 minutes solving it’ – Albert Einstein

So if you need help to work through what might be going wrong with your systems, give this method a go or feel free to get in touch with us to help walk you through it!

Pip Meecham

Systems and Operations Specialist & Founder of ProjectBox