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The Five Whys analysis is a problem solving methodology that relies on asking one simple (and perhaps obvious) question: why?
Even though it's fairly simple, the Five Whys technique does require some practice, preparation, and an eye for nuance. So, we put together this quick guide and a free template to guide you on how to perform the Five Whys analysis.
👉 Get started with this 5 Whys template.
When and why you need to perform the 5 Whys analysis.
Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota, created the Five Whys method to solve complex problems in their production process. At its core, Toyota designed the Five Whys as a brainstorming technique that helps you identify the root causes behind complex problems while avoiding both problematic assumptions and the “blame game.”
You start by . Then you ask why the situation that caused that problem exists. And so on. Typically, after Five Whys, you should land on the true root cause of the original problem you set out to solve (note that five is just the typical number of whys, you may need fewer, or you may need more).
Here's an example of the Five Whys in action:
Problem: Time to resolution has increased significantly for the .
Why 1: The customer success team has received more tickets than usual this past quarter.
Why 2: The product itself has seen more issues and increased downtime this past quarter.
Why 3: We increased the rate of feature deployment to keep up with customer feature requests.
Why 4: Churn rate has increased this year, with customers citing competitors' more complete feature set.
Why 5: Lack of formal communication lines between the customer success team and the product team led to time focused on features that didn't align with customer needs.
One trick to make sure your line of reasoning is sound is to work your way back up from "Why 5 "to the problem statement using "Therefore." As in:
Lack of formal communication lines between the customer success team and the product team led to time focused on features that didn't align with customer needs.
Churn rate has increased this year, with customers citing competitors' more complete feature set.
If your sequence makes sense all the way back up, you've done the Five Whys correctly.
Keep in mind that it might not always be Five Whys. You could have three whys or twenty. The way you know you've gone as far as you can is when your answer leads to a direct process change. In the case of our Five Whys example, the direct process change is that you should introduce better lines of communication between the product team and the customer success team because that is the root cause of the increased support ticket time to resolution.
The Five Whys approach is designed to help you by forcing you to examine your existing assumptions. Often, cause-and-effect-style problem analyses, like the Five Whys method, are prone to human error and incorrect assumptions. By channeling your inner toddler and refusing to stop asking "Why?" you're forced to confront what you think to be true and what actually is true.
This characteristic of helping to annihilate assumptions is why the Five Whys method is considered by many to be a key part of larger project management methods like six sigma. Let's get into how to actually do a Five Whys analysis.
Perform a 5 Whys analysis in 4 steps.
The Five Whys method is a brainstorming practice that (like is fairly flexible. There are four overall steps you need to follow, but you should feel free to make it your own.
1. Assemble the team.
Bring in all relevant team members and decision-makers that have a vested interest in the problem you're exploring. In our example above, you might bring in the head of customer success, the VP of product, the head of sales, and a lead engineer. Together, this team will perform the analysis. It's important to keep in mind that the Five Whys is about identifying process issues, not people issues. You're not gathering a team together to find out who's to blame. Instead, you're working together to find a process-based solution to a complex common problem.
2. Define a problem.
Start with a clear problem statement that encapsulates what your team needs to resolve. Make sure every team member understands and agrees to the definition of the problem before moving forward.
3. Ask your "whys."
Work your way through the whys together. You can use something physical like a whiteboard and sticky notes, or you can use a collaborative document to work it out in real-time. Keep in mind that the goal of the Five Whys is to identify the root cause of the problem, not list out the symptoms of that problem. Don't get complacent. Really put your detective hats on.
4. Zero in your solution.
Again, you may need Five Whys, or you may need much more. You'll know you've reached the end when further questioning results in illogical answers and when there is a clear next step process-wise.
What is a 5 Whys template?
A Five Whys template is a document you can easily replicate for use in a Five Whys analysis. It's an alternative to physical methods, like a sheet of paper or a whiteboard, so the team performing the analysis can meet remotely. Together, this team can work through the Five Whys exercise with minimal time spent on setup and full .
👉 Get started with this 5 Whys template.
After you copy this template, you can start utilizing this free 5 Whys template for your projects, business, and team.
How to use Coda's 5 Whys template.
Step 1: Add teammates
On the page, the first step is to add your teammates. After copying this template to your account, share the template with your teammates by entering their email addresses after clicking the Share button in the top-right. Then you can add them to the main table.
Step 2: Define a problem
This step is meant to be done with your team. Everyone can brainstorm on different problems to focus on in this 5 Whys analysis. After people add and vote on the different problems, the top problem will rise to the top in the table. Check off the Main problem column so that people know which problem the team will be doing the 5 Whys analysis on.
Step 3: Add the whys and mark a solution
This is the main step of the 5 Whys analysis. Discuss with your team (or do this individually) and start adding the underlying causes for the problem identified in step 2. Each “why” you add should address the previous “why.” Eventually you will have 5 (or more) whys and the last why should be marked as the “solution.” This is the last “why” where your team should develop an action plan to solve main problem in step 2.
5 Whys template FAQs
What are the 5 Why questions?
The Five Whys questions of the Five Whys analysis can be whatever you need them to be, as long as they start with "Why." The goal of the Five Whys analysis is to identify the root cause of the problem, so your questions should reflect that pursuit by being specific and sequential.
What is the 5 Whys analysis?
The Five Whys analysis is a powerful tool for identifying the root cause of complex problems. You start with a clear problem statement. They interrogate why it exists by asking "why" multiple times (typically five times, but it can be more or less).
What are the 5 Whys in problem solving?
The Five Whys process is a brainstorming method for problem solving. You start with a problem statement. Then you ask why that problem exists five times.
What are the 5 Whys of root cause analysis?
The Five Whys is a method for identifying the root cause of problems. It's a simple process where you ask "why" five times to explore all facets of the problem itself.
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