What are Five Whys?

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five whys

What are five whys?


One of the most powerful root cause analysis tools in the Lean management armory is the 5 Whys technique. In their everyday job, every team encounters hurdles. Using the 5 Whys, on the other hand, will assist you in identifying the core cause of any issue and safeguarding the process from repeat errors and failures.

Five whys (5 whys) is an interrogation technique used to identify the root cause of any problem. As the name suggests, it investigates the cause and effect relationship underlying any given situation. It consists of five why-questions to find a solution and resolve the issue. 

This interrogative technique was invented in Japan in the 1930s by Sakichi Toyoda, who used it within the Toyota Motor Corporation

It is an essential component of problem-solving training. The Toyota company still uses this technique for problem-solving, as do many other companies. 

What is the five whys method used for?

The five reasons technique is a problem-solving tactic used to improve the product’s quality and solve issues that don’t have an immediate or apparent cause. This technique performs efficiently with problems that have moderate or straightforward difficulty. For example, our landing page CTA isn’t converting. Why?

However, you cannot use them for complicated problems. That’s because many different parts need to get assessed for complex issues. 

Moreover, there might be more than one cause for the surface issue, and have a lot of branches to be explored. Thus, it can cause a lot of inconvenience with complex problems. 

You can use alternative techniques like cause and effect analysis instead to solve such problems.

advantages of 5 whys approach

How to conduct the five whys exercise?

Some of the steps to exercise the five whys are as follows: 

First step

The problem-solving process starts with establishing rapport with the problem and familiarizing oneself with the product and the affected parts.

One of the team members acts as a facilitator. That is to ensure that the group is focused on the problem and works to find the solution. 

You must write a problem statement to understand the problem and define the issue so that everyone agrees. 

Second step

The second step starts with asking the first-why question – ‘Why has the problem occurred?’ For instance, “Why don’t we make sales?”

The objective of this question is to find a precise answer about the occurrence based on observation and insights. 

There is no way to estimate it, and instead, you ought to identify one apparent cause. It’s best to go on to the following stage if you’ve found two or more answers to this question.

Third step

This step requires asking the other four whys and finding their answers. Considering the same example of the first-why, here is how the other four why’s can form. 

First why?: We don’t make sales.

Second why?: We have less advertisement

Third why?: We have poor quality graphics

Fourth why?: The team is not well-trained

Fifth why?: We have low budget

And voila! You have your root cause traced to the lower budget and the need for increased funding. This way, you can ask the five whys to find the root cause of the problem and, ultimately, a solution to the root cause.

What are the challenges faced while performing the five whys?

Often, the number of questions asked to get to the real problem is not just five, and it requires other perspectives to understand the cause of the problem. 

In such a case, there may be the need to ask “what,” “how,” and “where” for the best solution. 

Another challenge is that teams, don’t know the boundary of when to stop asking questions. They may keep going on and on in a vicious circle without finding a valuable response for the solution.

What is 5 why analysis example? 

Problem statement: The client notices an issue during User Acceptance Testing (UAT).

1. What has caused the client’s problem?

As per the technical lead, the testing team has not raised any issues with the development team.

2. Why was the issue not caught by the testing team?

Only sanity testing gets done, not complete regression testing.

3. Why do only sanity tests by the testing team?

They didn’t have enough time to test the entire program thoroughly because they didn’t have enough time.

4. Why wasn’t there enough time to conduct comprehensive functional testing?

Because the build arrived one day before UAT, complete functional testing takes at least three days.

5. Why was the build only made available one day before the UAT?

As we saw, the development team took longer than expected to fix a few flaws.

We can observe that there are two root causes in this case rather than one:

The first root cause is that team members could not provide accurate estimates for their functionalities, necessitating training in estimation approaches and their application.

The second root cause is a problem with project management because, in theory, a code freeze should occur at least four days before the UAT. Yet, the team worked on bug fixes until the last day.

What are the 5 Whys of root cause analysis? 

Here is a good example:

1. What caused your car to come to a halt? 

  •  It ran out of gas.

2. What happened when it ran out of gas?

  • You didn’t stop for petrol on my way to work.

3. Why didn’t you purchase some gasoline this morning?

  • Because you were short on cash.

4. What happened to your money?

  • You lost everything the previous night in a poker game.

5. Why did you lose money in the poker game last night? 

  • When you don’t have a decent hand, You are not particularly good at “deception.”
when can 5 whys be used


Who created the five whys?

The five whys is an interrogative technique invented by Sakichi Toyoda, who used it in Japan in the 1930s. The Toyota Motor Corporation employed it.

What is the importance of the five whys?

Five whys crucial to improve the product’s quality and solve issues that don’t have an immediate or an apparent cause. This approach is important for implementing product management tools for product managers. This technique performs well with problems that have moderate or straightforward difficulty.

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