Use 5 Whys Technique to Find the Root Cause of any Problem Quickly

March 11, 2020


Five whys (or 5 whys) is an iterative interrogative technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question “Why?”. Each answer forms the basis of the next question.

The Five Whys is a great Six Sigma tool aimed at peeling away the layers of symptoms that can lead to the root cause of a problem.  Regardless of this technique’s name “5 Whys,” you may need to ask the question fewer or more times than five before you find the issue related to a problem.

In this article, we look at the Five Whys technique. The Five Whys technique is a simple yet powerful tool to quickly point out the outward symptoms of a problem to reveal its underlying causes so that you can fix it for good.

Benefits of the Five Whys Technique:

  • Identify the root cause of a problem, not just the symptoms.
  • Define the relationship between different root causes of a problem.
  • Easy to complete without statistical analysis or additional tools.
  • Inculcate collaborative problem solving and teamwork.
  • Focusing on solving the problem rather than faultfinding or blaming individuals.
  • Solving the issues in your system once and for all.
  • Build a culture that embraces progress, seeks improvements, and welcomes change.


When can you use the Five Whys Technique?

  • In solving problems that involve human factors or interactions.
  • In day-to-day business life.
  • In process optimization.


How to perform the five whys technique correctly?

  • Identify the problem as accurately and completely as possible.
  • Ask your team members to be completely honest in answering the questions.
  • Be determined to find the underlying cause of the problem and resolve it.
  • Go beyond the symptoms.
  • Try your best to ask the right questions.
  • Be ready to hear answers that you might not like.
  • Continue asking questions until you get to the root cause; do not be bound to five questions.
  • Make sure that all generated answers are based on facts and knowledge.
  • Drop blaming and assess the process, not people.
  •  Stop asking “Why?” when you stop producing useful responses.


The steps to apply the five whys technique:

Step 1: Form a team for the 5 Whys Meeting

Start with assembling a team of people from different stations who are familiar with the addressed problem. By gathering a cross-functional team, you are going to receive unique points of view and collect enough information to make an informed decision.

Make sure that someone leads the meeting, if not you. The session leaders have to lead the 5 Whys process and keep the team focused on identifying effective counter-measures.

The meeting should include:

  • Everyone noticed the problem.
  • Everyone affected by the problem.
  • Everyone connected to a problem.
  • Everyone tried to fix the symptom or has input to the solution.
  • Everyone involved in the service/product.
  • The decision-makers.


Step 2: Define the problem

At the start of the meeting, you should discuss the problem with the team and make a brief, clear problem statement that you all agree on. Instead of investigating a wide scope problem, keep the problem statement focused only on the problem without stating any possible reasons for the problem or making any assumptions.

It is advisable to write down your statement on a whiteboard, and leave enough space around it to add the generated answers to the “Whys”.


Step 3: Ask “Why?” Five Times

The five whys is meant to be a ‘lean’ process to pick one path that allows the team to perform just the amount of corrective actions needed to solve a problem.

The session leader asks the team why the problem is occurring. Search for answers that are grounded in fact and avoid entertaining answers that are guesses. The answers should be based on facts and real data, rather than on emotional opinions.

Avoid asking too many Whys and focus on finding the root cause. Chase the root causes and write them below the problem statement.

Then, ask why another four times. Each answer form the base of the next question. After gathering answers for the four whys, write them next to the first why on your whiteboard.

When asking “why” produces no more useful responses and you can go no further, this is the point where you should stop asking where you have revealed the root cause of the problem. Once you have done this, you will have five reasons, one for each “why?” question.


Step 4: Determine your Countermeasures

After detecting at least one root cause, it is time to take corrective actions. All members should be involved in a discussion to discuss and agree on the counter-measures to address each of your five reasons and prevent the problem from recurring.


Step 5: Assign responsibility for solutions

For each countermeasure, the leader decides who is responsible for the related corrective actions and applying the right actions and observing the whole process to measure the success of that countermeasure. Agree on how will you monitor the progress. You may call for a follow-up meeting After a certain period of time, maybe in a few hours, days, or weeks.


Step 6: Monitor Progress and Measures

Monitor the progress to see how effectively the counter-measures eliminate or minimize the initial problem. You may need to adjust your countermeasures or even replace them entirely depending upon its success.

In the end, the process should be documented to have a reference for different kinds of problems staff may face and how those problems can be eliminated.


Example of the five whys technique:

Problem: The client is refusing to pay for a dish

First why: why is the client is refusing to pay for a dish?

Answer: the delivery was late

Second why: why was the delivery late?

Answer: the preparation took longer than expected.

Third why: why did the preparation take longer than expected?

Answer: we ran out of meat.

Fourth why: why did we run out of meat?

Answer: the meet was all used on a large order.

Fifth why: why was the meet all used?

Answer: we did not have enough meat on stock and could not order new supplies in time.

Counter-measure: find a meat supplier who can deliver at short notice, so that we can continue to minimize inventory, reduce waste, and respond to customer demand.

5 whys Template:

5 whys

“If you don’t ask the right questions, you don’t get the right answers.” Says Edward Hodnett, “A question asked in the right way often points to its own answer. Asking questions is the ABC of diagnosis. Only the inquiring mind solves problems.” Bear in mind that the five whys technique is a questioning process.