Systems of Support Supporting Educator Excellence through Technology and Strategy

Using the 5 Whys to Help Identify Solutions

In last week’s post I talked about the importance of developing a process for determining technology needs. This helps to ensure schools purchase what is needed vs. what is hot at the moment. However, sometimes it is not feasible (or necessary) to do a full technology needs assessment to determine what is really needed. In this post I will be explaining a super simple technique to help you quickly get to the bottom of an issue, which makes finding the appropriate solution much easier. It is called the 5 Whys.

The 5 whys


I first learned of the 5 Whys when working to obtain my Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Certification several years. The basic principle of the 5 Whys is to continue asking why until you get to the root of the issue. Here’s an example from the manufacturing world (don’t worry, I’ll get to an education example next):

Worker: The assembly line is down.

Manager: Why (1)?

Worker: Because one of the machines is down.

Manager: Why (2)?

Worker: Maintenance

Manager: Why (3) does the machine need maintenance?

Worker: It is getting old.

Manager: Why (4) do we have an old machine?

Worker: Because we haven’t replaced it?

Manager: Why (5) have we not replaced it?

Worker: We typically use the machines until they can no longer be used. We don’t have a process for exactly when we replace them.

Manager: So the problem here is a process is not in place. Putting a process in place would have prevented this problem and likely prevent similar problems in the future.

Cool, huh? It sounds silly to continue asking why, but it really does allow you to get to the real issue. Let’s look at an example in the Assistive Technology world:

Teacher: I need an iPad

Administrator: Why (1)?

Teacher: There is a communication app that I need.

Administrator: Why (2)?

Teacher: Because my student needs assistance with communication and I read that this app is a good one.

Administrator: Why (3) do you think this app is the answer?

Teacher: Others recommend it and I’m not sure what else to do at this point.

Administrator: Why (4) are you not sure what else to do?

Teacher: I don’t know, I guess I haven’t had enough training in this area.

Administrator: Why (5) have you not had training in this area.

Teacher: There hasn’t been any offered.

Administrator. OK. We need to schedule training first to get you up to speed on what options exist to assist this student.

What I really like about the 5 Whys in this scenario is that it allows the administrator to not say no. It may turn out after training that the teacher decides the iPad with a communication app is the way to go, but until he is properly trained it is just a guess based off of something he read.

The 5 Whys is one of the simplest methods I know of to quickly identify the true problem (and potential solution) being faced. It can be used in almost any setting. I would love to hear how you could use the 5 Whys in your setting. Let us know in the comments area below. Or better yet, give it a try and let us know how it went!


About Jason Carroll

Jason has trained thousands on Assistive Technology and Universal Design for Learning concepts throughout the United States and beyond. His focus is on integrating research based practices into the work he does and helping others ensure that what they are doing works. He specializes in assisting people to bridge the gap between operation of technology and actual implementation. Jason is a published author, has taught Instructional Technology and Universal Design for Learning at the University level, and spends a significant amount of time on e-Learning and blended learning initiatives. He is a graduate of the Assistive Technology Applications Certificate Program (ATACP) from California State University at Northridge and holds a Masters in Business Administration. Currently Jason serves as Product Marketing Manager for North America at Texthelp Inc. where he oversees new product launches and speaks nationally on a variety of Assistive Technology topics.

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