The Five Whys in Product, Social Change, and Life

The most important job of a product manager (and arguably most professions) is to understand the problem.


Pioneered by Taiichi Ohno in the Toyota Production System in the 1950s, the Five Whys root cause analysis is one of my favorites to unpack problems. By repeatedly asking why five times, you arrive at the root cause of the problem. And once the nature of the problem becomes clear, the solution also becomes clear.

Intercom details a great practical example of how to apply this to analyzing product abandonment.


Outside of product, I've started using this analysis in my daily life to understand why a person might be angry or upset with me or why I might hold a certain opinion so strongly.


I've also started thinking about it as it relates to the massive social issues that we face today. Over the past few weeks, like many of you, I've been consuming a lot of content about police brutality. I've donated to multiple organizations that I believe are addressing the root cause of the issue, but then I realized that I only have a superficial, convoluted understanding of it.


So I started doing more research and asking why, why, why, why, and why again. I've tried to summarize this analysis below (warning: it's dramatically oversimplified):


This is by no means complete, but it's helped me start to better understand an otherwise overwhelming problem. And now that I better understand it, I'll start ideating and prioritizing how I can drive impact on addressing some of these root problems.


Let me know if you're interested in helping!

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