The 5 Whys

The 5 Whys is one of my favorite tools to help discover the root cause of any problem. The idea is that if you ask Why enough times, you should get to the root cause of the problem. This way, you solve the root cause of the problem rather than a symptom.

While the 5 Whys technique does not work in every situation, it is a proven technique that works in many situations, especially when it is not forced. I have successfully used the 5 Whys when applied to getting to the root or real reason behind an objection.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

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 "5" in the name derives from an anecdotal observation on the number of iterations needed to resolve the problem.

The technique was formally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and was used within the Toyota Motor Corporation during the evolution of its manufacturing methodologies. In other companies, it appears in other forms. Under Ricardo Semler, Semco practices "three whys" and broadens the practice to cover goal setting and decision making.

Not all problems have a single root cause. If one wishes to uncover multiple root causes, the method must be repeated asking a different sequence of questions each time.

The method provides no hard and fast rules about what lines of questions to explore, or how long to continue the search for additional root causes. Thus, even when the method is closely followed, the outcome still depends upon the knowledge and persistence of the people involved.


Here are some examples of the 5 Whys in action:

In short, the 5 Whys are...

Be patient with this one...it has the basics of the 5 Whys:

There was a problem with the paint on the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC:

Here's another view of the 5 Whys with some examples:

How about the 5 Whys with touch of humor?