Organizational Development Consultant and Leadership Coach

Nineteen Techniques to Gather Information: #17 5 Whys

July 28, 2014

“Sometimes I feel as though we haven’t done a very good job at getting to the bottom of a problem. Is there a quick technique to identify the core cause of a relatively simple problem?”

#17   5 Whys

What is 5 Whys?

5 Whys is a technique for getting to the core source of problems in minimum time.   Research shows that to get to the core of a problem one will need to ask the question “Why?” an average of 5 times. 5 Whys involves asking this basic question until your meeting group is satisfied that the root cause of a problem is stated and understood.

When to Use 5 Whys?

  • When you are unsure of what specifically caused a situation to be as it is
  • When you want a systematic way to lead a group to understand the real reason why a problem is occurring or has occurred

How to Use 5 Whys?

1. Simply ask the question, “Why?” or “What caused that to happen?”, about the specific problem under analysis.

2. Continue to ask “Why?” until your meeting group feels it has come to the core reason for the problem, or is getting responses that seem trivial or banal. Chart the responses as appropriate.

NOTE: This may involve talking to several people at several layers of the organization before the problem is fully understood.

3. Use the resulting information to address the issue.

In Summary:

5 Whys is a technique for getting to the source of uncomplicated problems in a minimum time.

1. Identify a problem and ask the question, “Why?” or “What caused that to occur?”

2. Continue to ask, “Why?” until your group feels it has come to the root of the problem.

3. Use the information to address the issue.


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