The “5 Whys” Technique: Questions for Supply Chain Executives to Ask

When I worked at Motorola, we regularly used the “5 Whys” technique to help us uncover the root causes of problems. As described in iSixSigma:

By repeatedly asking the question “Why” (five is a good rule of thumb), you can peel away the layers of symptoms which can lead to the root cause of a problem. Very often the ostensible reason for a problem will lead you to another question. Although this technique is called “5 Whys,” you may find that you will need to ask the question fewer or more times than five before you find the issue related to a problem.

Source: “A Guide to the 5 Whys Technique,” Olivier Serrat,

On my flight home yesterday, I recalled the 5 Whys technique and wondered if there were a set of Why questions supply chain and logistics executives should ask themselves to solve long-existing problems and drive continuous improvement. Below is my short list.

The 5 Whys technique usually begins with a problem statement, but I didn’t define any for my questions. Therefore, you can view my questions as problem statements that kick off the 5 Whys process or as one of the five (or more or less) questions in the root cause discovery process.

What are your thoughts on these questions? What problem statements and questions would you put on your list? Post a comment and share your perspective!