The 'Five Questions' is a problem solving technique which may be applied to almost any business situation where an answer is required that will indicate a productive way forward. The beauty of the Five Questions lies in its simplicity. There really is nothing to learn. It may be applied to yourself, colleagues or a group.

You simply ask the question "Why?" five times. That's it. The basic premise is that the answer to the first 'Why' is not the answer you are looking for which is: The answer which will point the way to a productive solution.

Here is an example of the Five Questions:

Someone arrives late for a meeting saying "Sorry I'm late" - clearly we have a problem.

Q1. Why were you late?
A. My car wouldn't start.

In the course of normal conversation that is the answer. The car wouldn't start and the solution is to take the car to a garage for repairs. But in a business situation is that the most productive solution? Let's see:

Q2. Why?
A. The battery was flat.

Q3. Why?
A. The alternator is not charging the battery.

Q4. Why?
A. I skipped a service which would have picked up the faulty alternator.

Q5. Why?
A. My mortgage was due at the same time as I had to pay for roof repairs so I skipped the service.

With the answer to question 5 we are in a position to propose a solution. The car not starting was the cause of being late. The reason was lack of funds. So the solution to being late could be better financial planning rather than finding a decent garage. The answer to question five allows us to identify the root cause and propose an effective solution.

It is important to tell staff or colleagues that you are going to ask them five questions otherwise it will feel like an interrogation. That said, it is astonishing how often this simple technique leads to a solution which was not obvious at the outset.

Article by Paul Easton of Easton Associates.

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