Kaizen Your Logistics: 5 Why Lean Problem Solving

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Kaizen Your Logistics: 5 Why Lean Problem Solving

Continuous improvement (kaizen) is an ongoing effort to improve products, services, or processes. By improving standardized activities and procedures, kaizen aims to distinguish and eliminate waste. There are many tools to guide you through your continuous improvement efforts. One specific tool is using the 5 Why problem solving method. This method assists you in uncovering the root cause of a problem, and initiates brainstorming to identify effective solutions for eliminating repetition of the problem. You cannot solve a problem without first determining the underlying issue that created it. The 5 Why technique is an easy process that will lead you to that root cause.

You start by simply asking "why" at least five times to expose the causal factors that contributed to the problem, and continue until you discover the initiating issue that sparked the chain of problematic events. Once it is discovered, you can then brainstorm and collaborate with others (see post - Continuous Improvement: Collaborative Problem Solving) to develop and implement the proper measures to eliminate that root cause and prevent its recurrence.

Example - Using 5 Why in Lean Logistics Engineering

When a shipment was missed on my behalf, I recently utilized the 5 Why problem solving method to determine the root cause. After continuously asking why, I identified different areas in the process that left room for error. I peeled those errors back to the core, where I discovered the root cause of my problem. The current state process allowed the system to upload pickups to a drop location on the website. The drop location was not associated with the vendor for which I was trying to upload the pickup. Here are the steps I took to reach my conclusion:


A pickup was missed on my behalf.

Why: (Causal Factor) Our Route Management team and the carrier were unaware of the pickup.

Why: (Causal Factor) The pickup was incorrectly uploaded to the website and therefore, not visible for scheduling.

Why: (Causal Factor) I chose the incorrect stop number when adding the pickup to the website.

Why: (Causal Factor) I was unaware of the extra step added to the milk run that day, so the stop numbers for each supplier on the milk run had changed.

Why: (Root Cause) The current state process allows the software user to upload pickups to stops that are designated as drop locations. The drop locations have different vendor numbers that don’t match the vendors on the upload.


Create a Poka-Yoke in the system to ensure the pickup stop is associated with the same vendor on the upload, and pickups cannot be assigned to drop locations.

As you can see from this example, an opportunity to blame the person arose (choosing the incorrect stop number), but was passed over so the process could be blamed. In a lean organization, it is vital to uncover issues at the source, take immediate action to resolve those issues, and sustain best practices to ensure those problems are avoided going forward.

Written by Jenn Andree, Lean Logistics Specialist at LeanCor

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Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

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LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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