5 Whys Technique for Problem Solving

What is 5 Whys Technique and How to Perform 5 Why

5 Whys
5 Whys

What is 5 Whys Technique and How to Perform 5 Whys ?

Unforeseen events or problems may occur in any process. Mostly things don’t go as planned. When a problem occurs within a project, the project team mostly tries to find a quick but temporary solution in order to overcome. However, quick solutions become useless due to the complexity of the problem as the project progress. If the root cause of a problem is not being identified or addressed, it will occur again. Likewise if you don’t implement a permanent solution for the problem, the problem will repeat again and again. 5 Whys is a simple technique that helps to eliminate problems by determining their root causes. In this article we will discuss 5 Whys technique and it’s implementation steps.

What is 5 Whys ?

5 Whys is a technique used to determine the root cause of a problem by repeatedly asking the question “Why”.
The technique was developed in the 1930’ s by Mr. Sakichi Toyoda who is the founder of Toyota Industries and then became a worldwide technique which is used by Toyota and many other companies today.

Basically, the 5 Whys is a simple technique that relies on asking “Why” several times to understand all the signs of a problem. It is oftenly used in conjunction with other techniques such as fishbone diagram, six sigma DMAIC and Deming Cycle (PDCA).

When to Use the 5 Whys ?

The 5 Whys technique can be used for troubleshooting, quality improvement and problem solving purposes. Whenever a system or process doesn’t working properly, you can implement this technique to develop a solution. It can be used during the analyze phase of the DMAIC, plan phase of the PDCA, identify and eliminate phase of the lean manufacturing.

How to Perform 5 Whys ?

Below steps can be followed for making a 5 Whys analysis.

Step 1. Assemble a Team

A team should be formed in order to make brain storming for the root cause of a problem. Team members should be familiar with the detail of the problem. Team members will bring their expertise and viewpoint related with the problem and ask crucial questions.

Step 2. Define the Problem

Defining the problem clearly is the first thing that the team should do. In this step, the problem should be defined clearly and a concise problem statement should be written. If the problem statement is clear and explanatory enough, the team will spend less time to solve the problem. At this step the scope of problem should also be determined. The scope of problem should reflect the size and characteristics of the problem. If the scope of problem is large, you will need extensive improvements for the problem. If the scope is narrow, improvements will be small.

Step 3. Ask “Why?”

In this step, the team leader asks the team “Why” the problem occured and the team answers the question. Then the team leader asks if the identified causes were corrected, could the problem still occur. If the team answers “Yes”, then the team leader should ask “Why” again.

Sometimes the root cause can be identified in the third or fourth “Why” and in some cases it can not be identified in the fifth “Why”.

The responses of the team members should focus on the process and system errors. The responses should not be effected from the team members bias and emotions. Otherwise results may be misleading.

Step 4. Determine and Implement Corrective Actions

Once the root cause of the problem is identified, a list of appropriate corrective actions should be created to address each root cause. At this step the master assigns responsibility for the corrective actions to the participants in the discussion.

Note that there is no specific format used to document the 5 Whys exercise. Some organizations use their own detailed formats, others use various formats.

5 Whys Example

Problem statement – The client refused to pay the progress payment.

  1. Why did the client refuse to pay the progress payment? Because we completed the activity late.
  2. Why did we complete the activity late? Because the activity took longer than estimated.
  3. Why did the activity take longer than estimated? Because we couldn’t bring enough material for the activity.
  4. Why didn’t we bring enough material? Because we didn’t purchase on time.
  5. Why didn’t we purchase the materials on time ? Because we didn’t analyze the work schedule.

The root cause of the problem is that we didn’t analyze the work schedule. Corrective action is to create good communication channels within the project team and assemble progress meetings regularly to avoid lack of communication and coordination.

Benefits of 5 Whys

  • It helps to determine the root cause of a problem
  • It helps to identify more problems during the performance of 5 Whys analysis for a problem.
  • It encourages team members to share their ideas and expertise
  • It is an effective tool which is very easy to use
  • It improves decision making


In this article we analyzed the 5 Whys technique with the help of an example. Basically, the 5 Whys analysis is an effective tool for determining the root cause of a problem. It can be used as a part of “The Fishbone Diagram” for problem solving. Also this technique is widely used in the analyze phase of the Six Sigma DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) practices.

If you want, you can share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

External References

Five Whys and Five Hows

See Also

Fishbone Diagram (Cause and Effect Diagram)

Six Sigma Methodology and Six Sigma Principles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.