Christina Wodtke
4 min readFeb 1, 2024

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Transforming Tasks into Outcomes: The Five Whys Technique

In goal setting, distinguishing between tasks outputs (tasks, project, etc) and outcomes (key results) is crucial for achieving meaningful progress. While tasks represent the actions we take, outcomes focus on the impact or results of those actions. The Five Whys Technique, a method originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda for Toyota’s manufacturing process, offers a straightforward approach for peeling back the layers of a task to reveal the underlying outcome it aims to achieve.

The Essence of the Five Whys

The Five Whys Technique involves asking “Why?” five times (or as many as needed) to move from a surface-level understanding of a task to a deeper insight into its purpose or outcome. This iterative questioning helps to uncover the root objective behind a task, transforming it from a mere activity to a result-oriented goal.

Application in Goal Setting

Let’s consider the task of “updating the company website.” At first glance, this seems like a straightforward task. But what’s the outcome we’re truly after? Applying the Five Whys, we delve deeper:

  1. Why update the company website?
    To improve user experience.
  2. Why improve user experience?
    To increase visitor engagement and satisfaction.
  3. Why increase visitor engagement and satisfaction?
    To enhance brand reputation and customer loyalty.
  4. Why enhance brand reputation and customer loyalty?
    To drive repeat business and referrals.
  5. Why drive repeat business and referrals?
    To increase revenue and market share.

Through this questioning, the task of “updating the company website” evolves into the outcome of “increasing revenue and market share by enhancing brand reputation and customer loyalty through improved user experience.”

Once we have the goal, we can both evaluate the value of the effort and brainstorm alternatives that may product better impact. Imagine the five whys a ladder you can traverse up and down to drive focused brainstorming.

5. Drive Revenue and Market share
Are there other ways we could do this? Of course. Our business and product strategy should include choices such as moving to other markets or creating new products. But that may not be strategically wise, depending on company resources or other factors.

4. Drive repeat business and referrals
This is a desirable outcome. Any business would enjoy cost-free acquisition and low-cost retention. Aquistion is hard, reacquisition is harder. Are there other cheaper and/or higher impact ways to do this? Perhaps improving customer service would have a larger impact. Maybe creating a referral program might work better.

3. To enhance brand reputation and customer loyalty.
Now can you brainstorm some ways to do this? Often we quickly make assumptions without thinking them through, but every project we assign resources to is an opportunity cost: now those people can’t work on another project that could be more effective or efficient.

Benefits of Focusing on Outcomes

  • Clarity and Direction: By understanding the desired outcome, teams and individuals gain clarity on what they are aiming to achieve, allowing for more focused and strategic efforts.
  • Motivation and Engagement: Outcomes connect daily tasks to broader goals or missions, providing a sense of purpose and motivation.
  • Measurement and Adaptability: Outcomes, being more measurable, offer clearer benchmarks for success, allowing for more agile responses and adjustments in strategy.

Implementing the Five Whys

To effectively apply the Five Whys in transforming tasks into key results:

  1. Start with a key result that is actually a task and state it as clearly as possible.
  2. Ask Why: Question the purpose of the task, seeking to understand the underlying objective or benefit. If a member of your team thinks up a task, there is almost always a hidden assumption about the effect that will task will have.
  3. Dig Deeper: Continue asking “Why?” for each answer, aiming for a deeper layer of understanding with each question.
  4. Identify the Outcome: Use the insights from the questioning process to define the desired outcome in specific, measurable terms. make sure the outcomes is at the right level for the team: do they have the right resources and sphere of influence to make that outcome happen? e.g. a designer embedded in the website team probably can’t affect the mobile software product team (assuming the company sells mobile software and uses the website as a sales channel.)
  5. Align Actions with Outcomes: Reevaluate and adjust the original task or develop new strategies to ensure alignment with the identified outcome.

Conclusion

The Five Whys Technique offers a powerful method for transcending the mundane checklist of tasks, elevating them to strategic outcomes that drive meaningful progress. By continuously questioning the purpose behind our actions, we can ensure that our efforts are not just busywork, but purposeful strides towards impactful results. In doing so, we not only achieve more but also find greater satisfaction in our work, knowing that every task is a step towards a significant outcome.

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