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By: Nicola Balloch


Hello again readers,


This week’s blog is actually a double feature, as we’ll be discussing two lean tools! These are the Five Ws and One H and the Five Whys. These are both tools designed to help you better understand the problems you are facing and identify the root causes of them.

While reading the classic book Kaizen (Ky’zen): the key to Japans competitive success, written by lean pioneer Masaaki Imai 1986, we decided it would be interesting to share some of the simple lean tools that have been used successfully for over 40 years. However, a little research revealed that they origins can be traced back centuries! So, before we get into the nitty-gritty of this week’s blog, we want to begin with a little history lesson…

As some of you may know, the Five Ws and One H tool is also referred to as the Kipling Method, after Rudyard Kipling. Kipling was among Britain’s most popular authors in the late 19th and early 20th century,  and is best known for The Jungle Book, which inspired the famous animated Disney movie. However, it is his poem I Keep Six Honest Serving-men, that is of interest to us. The poem begins:

I keep six honest serving-men
 (They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

This poem was published in 1902, but there are disagreements surrounding its origins. Some believe that the poem was about Kipling’s daughter, who was a very inquisitive child. However, others suggests that it may have been inspired by a medieval Latin epigram in the Register of Daniel Rough, Clerk of Romney (Kent) in the 14th century:

Si sapiens fore vis sex servus qui tibi mando
Quid dicas et ubi, de quo, cur, quomodo, quando.
(If you wish to be wise I commend to you six servants,
Ask what, where, about what, why, how, when.)


So, it looks like a variation of this lean tool may actually have actually existed for centuries, rather than decades!

Anyway, lets get back to the topic of this blog – the Five Ws and One H and the Five Whys.


The Five Ws and One H

Image adapted from Kaizen (Ky’zen): the key to Japans competitive success


Quite simply, the Five Ws and One H approach is asking ‘Who’, ‘What’, ‘Where’, ‘When’, ‘Why’, and ‘How’ questions when you are faced with a problem. Not only is this a great tool for root cause analysis, but it also encourages engagement in the lean process. Often, trying to determine the cause of a problem (unintentionally) creates an atmosphere of blame. However, by focusing on the processes rather than the people, the Five Ws and One H approach helps to remove the negativity associated with blame. It also helps you to better understand the problem you are facing, promotes dialogue among team members, and gets people thinking about how things can be improved.


These benefits alone make this a very useful tool. However, it becomes even more powerful when combined with the Five Whys. Making use of them together helps to improve the depth and breath of your understanding of the problem-identifying and -solving stages in your lean journey.



The Five Whys


The Five Whys is also very simple to use, but is invaluable in helping identify the root of a problem. It can be used in any situation where the underlying causes of something are not immediately clear.

Asking the question ‘Why?’ five times (or more) encourages people to delve below the surface and assess the underlying reasons for a problem. It also encourages people in the workplace to share their knowledge and expertise, which can provide you with a vital perspective with which to approach the problem.

As with the Five Ws and One H, it is important that people don’t feel like you are trying to place blame on an individual or team. Ensuring that everyone understands that you are focused on activities and processes rather than people will allow you to make progress quicker.


Let’s take a look at an example given by Taiichi Ohno, former Toyota Motor vice president, described by Masaaki Imai in his book:

“Question 1: Why did the machine stop?
Answer 1: Because the fuse blew due to an overload.
Question 2: Why was there an overload?
Answer 2: Because the bearing lubrication was inadequate.
Question 3: Why was the lubrication inadequate?
Answer 3: Because the lubrication pump was not functioning right.
Question 4: Why wasn’t the lubricating pump working right?
Answer 4: Because the pump axle was worn out.
Question 5: Why was it worn out?
Answer 5: Because sludge got in.

By repeating “why” five times, it was possible to identify the real cause and hence the real solution: attaching a strainer to the lubricating pump.”


Given the nature of these two tools, it is easy to see how you could implement them in any number of ways! Are there any problems that you are currently experiencing? If you use them to overcome any working from home challenges, why not share your experience with us on Twitter? We’d love to hear from you!


For more advice on being lean whilst working remotely, look out for the next post in our working from home series. Plus, if you would like to find out how we can help your business or organisation make its processes more efficient during this difficult time, please don’t hesitate to contact us!





Masaaki Imai (1986). Kaizen (Ky’zen): the key to Japans competitive success. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.

The Elephant’s Child. (2005). Retrieved April 20, 2020, from

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