“5 Whys” vs “What if”

“5 Whys” is a great method to find root cause of problems. If you browse internet you will find several examples of applying this technique. Some of these examples are really trivial and questionable. There are reasons for that:

  • Tendency for investigators to stop at symptoms rather than going on to lower-level root causes.
  • Inability to go beyond the investigator’s current knowledge - cannot find causes that they do not already know.
  • Lack of support to help the investigator ask the right “why” questions.
  • Results are not repeatable - different people using 5 Whys come up with different causes for the same problem.
  • Tendency to isolate a single root cause, whereas each question could elicit many different root causes.

But don’t you think there is one more reason? What if due to lack of knowledge, experience and context understanding you treat something as a problem, but it’s not actually a problem. With a small twist by asking “What if” instead of “Why” we can start focusing on innovation rather than problems.

As an example 5 or 10 years ago everybody treated data growth as a problem and while asking “Why” questions we were building archive servers, reducing amount of data collected, changing features and etc. But obviously someone asked “What if” question and we have new trend about big data and we have technologies that enable us to do that.

Want to experiment? Combine “What if” with “5 Whys”.