Taiichi Ohno

The Kipling Method vs. the Ohno Method

By Jon Miller Updated on May 20th, 2017

There is an interesting story told by Toyota veterans who worked directly with Taiichi Ohno. When the great sensei and architect of the Toyota Production System was introduced to the 5W1H questions for problem solving, he said “You don’t need all of those. Just keep asking “why?” until you find the cause.” The 5W1H questions are what is known as the Kipling Method, named after the author Rudyard Kipling who wrote the poem:

I have six honest serving men
They taught me all I knew
I call them What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who

The 5W1H questions are what, where, when, who, why and how. Some additional W-H questions include which (variant of what) and how much or how often. These are useful in collecting information to grasp the current situation and correctly define the problem, as in “What is the problem, when and where did it occur, who did it affect, why is it a problem, and how did it occur?” Note that in proper lean or practical problem solving we never ask “Who caused the problem?”

What is interesting about the Ohno Method of asking why until we find the root cause is that it is so simple. Once the problem has been defined, we need to break it down, set targets for improvements toward the ideal condition, and then begin investigation of the root causes. Note that while the “why” in the Kipling Method may be used for “why did it happen?” in fact it should be “why is it a problem?” in lean problem solving. The 5W1H should be used for creating a good problem statement, not asking about causes. That comes later with the Ohno Method of asking why, why, why, why, why, why, why..?

What I like about this story is the fact that Taiichi Ohno takes something that is accepted as given and good, looks it in the eye and rejects it for something simpler and better. He had a keen eye for things such as this and coined many important phrases and concepts that became part of the DNA of the Toyota Production System. This talent for simplification and seeing clearly sets Taiichi Ohno apart as one of the great minds of business in the past century and the father of kaizen.

Reflecting on this, I believe the majority of the world’s troubles, not to mention challenges faced in manufacturing and service organizations, could be effectively addressed through the effective use of only 3 simple “lean tools”: teamwork, visual management, and practical problem solving. So there you have it if you want to know, “What’s the least I need to know about lean management?”

But even this is deceptively simple. Teamwork involves people whose motivations, capacity for thought, and combination of cultural and social interactions make effective teamwork staggeringly challenging when addressed simplistically. Visual management is comprised mostly of communication, controls and scoreboards but these all require clear standards and target conditions, which can quickly get you into the deep mud of a lack of standards, accountability and culture of performance management – explaining in a nutshell why most 5S efforts don’t succeed. And practical problem solving, one of my favorite topics, is something most of us think we do but in fact don’t do. The best of us may solve problems through a standardized process, but most still lack strong, concise problem statements, true root cause analysis, the pursuit of multiple countermeasures, a robust check and learning followed by standardization and sharing. In other words, we flap our lips about PDCA but don’t do it.

Are you a Kipling person, taking the accepted tool or solution as given, or are you an Ohno person, constantly challenging the norms and looking for better ways? How we answer this question has a great bearing on our individual and collective growth and success.

  1. james

    November 16, 2009 - 5:47 am

    Coming from a long background in various forms of therapy I am always intrigued by 5 Why’s therapists have the why question beaten out of them in training, it is considered adversarial and likely to raise the defences of the person asking the question, as they seek to justify their behaviour.
    I have my own thoughts on this matter, but would be interested to hear if you have come across situations where five why may not be appropriate?

  2. André Faria Gomes

    November 16, 2009 - 8:00 am

    Great! Make things simple is not easy, but these toyota guys really know how do it.

  3. Jon Miller

    November 16, 2009 - 10:44 am

    Hi James,
    Therapy is a form of problem solving in my opinion. The key to effective problem solving is to make it about the process, not the person. We say “focus on the process, not the person” when doing problem solving. We observe the work that a person does, not the person. Even then we need to create a safe environment where people don’t feel they are blamed or monitored. This is not easy, but without building trust and earning this permission neither kaizen nor therapy will be successful.
    Just as the work someone performs is not the same as the person themselves, the behavior of a person is not the same as the person. People have a difficult time in objectively separating these two. As the saying goes, “love the sinner, not the sin.”
    Just as we can improve our work, we can improve our behavior. First we need to build trust and gain permission to delve deeper into the root causes. I am not a therapist but the 5W1H process probably applies in the early stages to gain consensus and acceptance of the problem behavior between patient and therapist. A that point, there must be an equivalent of a 5 why deep-dive, or therapy would be ineffective, just an opinion-based rehashing of the issues without getting to the root causes.
    Taiichi Ohno was certainly no therapist. He held himself and others to high standards and was not shy about asking “Why?” As a senior person at Toyota charged with bringing about change he had permission to do this. By going to work at Toyota or other lean organizations, you are giving permission to be asked “why?” In a similar way if a patient seeks therapy from a doctor or therapist they are giving permission to be asked the questions that will help them get better.
    Rather than throwing out the why questions from the practice of therapy because the question is likely to raise defenses and adversarial behavior in the patient, I would ask “Why does the ‘why?’ question make the patient defensive?” If teachers of therapy get defensive at this question, well I guess they’re just Kipling people.

  4. Vishnupriya Sharma

    November 17, 2009 - 5:04 am

    I have always used the two in tandem. Kipling’s friends are very useful in understanding and stating the effect (problem) and Ohno’s questions follow the problem formulation in identifying the root cause. I think it is very important to frame the problem statement accurately which makes it conducive to use the Ohno’s method of finding the root cause out.
    And as Jon Miller points out, it is very important to establish that the questioning is not seen personal, but, is seen as an enquiry into the process.

  5. Rob

    November 18, 2009 - 4:34 am

    You might also want to consider socratic questioning as well? Although difficult to master in practice its an excellent way of:
    * keeping a discussion focused
    * drawing others into the discussion
    * periodically summarising what has and what has not been dealt with and/or resolved
    * stimulating the discussion with different types of questions, for example:
    1. Conceptual clarification questions
    2. Probing assumptions
    3. Probing rationale, reasons and evidence
    4. Questioning viewpoints and perspectives
    5. Probe implications and consequences
    6. Questions about the question
    This pdf file contains some further information:

  6. Chris

    November 19, 2009 - 8:42 am

    Hi Jon
    All of the questioning techniques mentioned are available to use, there are no rules just employ the most appropriate one for your problem.
    Toyota had great success with asking 5 why’s to get to the root cause.
    Here we had difficulty defining the problem in the first place so we ask “What” is the problem then ask why as many times as required to close out (countermeasure) the problem.
    I find that using 5W 1H (Kipling method) very useful when we are trying to explain, share or report our problem solution to others particularly as we have to report it all on 1 sheet of A3.
    For example
    What is the proposed Solution
    Why did we choose this solution
    When do we plan to implement the change
    Where in the organisation will these improvements take place
    Who is going to carry out the work
    How will the change be communicated.
    Of course the statements following each the 5W 1H questions vary considerabley from one case to another.
    I like to use Socratic questioning during my teams kaizen presentations to probe issues help them reflect and hopfully help them learn to think
    Thank you Jon for raising this question as only last week I wrote in an e mail to our HR department ” Please report your progress on this issue using 5W 1H” and I got a reply asking me what I meant, I hope you don’t mind if I copy your blog to our HR people as it is much better than my blunt reply to them.
    Best Regards

  7. Owen Berkeley-Hill

    November 30, 2009 - 2:19 am

    My one concern is the use of “Who?”. In organisations where there is a strong tradition of Command & Control based on fear and bullying; and where management do not practice Genchi Genbutsu, the use of “Who?” can begin a witch hunt. In the “good old days” we had the alternative method of the 5 Whos which were not very enlightening but were very good at apportioning blame, usually to the innocent.

  8. Jon Miller

    November 30, 2009 - 1:32 pm

    Great point Owen. We need to make the distinction that “who?” should be asked during problem statement formulation, as in “who is affected by this problem?” but not in the root cause analysis stage, where blame can be applied.

  9. Josue Rodriguez

    December 8, 2009 - 10:15 pm

    I am very interested in taking the 5W1H approach to provide a thorough analysis of a couple of quality issues we currently have in our company, is there a form you recommend that I can use to train myself and lead my team to get them involved? I would really appreciate your help.
    By the way, great inputs in the blog, congratulations!

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