5 whys

All projects have issues, and project managers must identify the root causes and solve them to prevent the issues from reoccurring. The 5 Whys Analysis assists project managers in determining the root cause of any issue, allowing them to develop a solution and prevent the process from repeating errors.

What is the 5 Whys Analysis Technique?

Definition: The 5 whys analysis technique questions why an issue occurs and then provides an answer. The 5 Whys method involves asking “Why” 5 times until you find the root cause. This method works best when the responses originate from those who are directly affected by the problem. By continuously asking “Why?” 5 times, you can get to the source of the problem.

The 5 Hows technique is then used to identify a solution to the fundamental cause (s). The 5 whys and 5 hows are mutually beneficial. You find the root cause using the 5 Whys method, then the solution with the 5 Hows method.

Together, the 5 whys and 5 hows technique can help you get to the bottom of a problem and find a solution.

The 5 whys dig into the issue, and the 5 hows are used to flesh out the solution. 

Origins of the 5 Whys Technique

The 5 Whys Technique was developed by Toyota Motor Corporation. Taiichi Ohno, one of the technique founders, said in his book Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production, “By saying why 5 times, the essence of the issue and its solution become evident.”

The 5 Whys technique was popularized in the 1930s by Sakichi Toyoda, a Japanese industrialist, and creator of Toyota Industries. He said by stating, “By stating why 5 times, the essence of the problem and its solution become evident.”

It evolved further in the 1970s, and Toyota currently employs it to address problems.

When Should You Use 5 Why Method?

The 5 Whys approach can be used for problem-solving, diagnosis, or any other progress.

The 5 Whys methodology is better suited to simple problems than to complex situations. If this method leads to more than one explanation, you can utilize the 5 whys technique with a fishbone diagram and Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA).

5 Whys analysis is a straightforward and adaptable strategy. Even on the first try, you can uncover the root reasons swiftly.

After utilizing the Pareto analysis to separate the issues, project managers employ this technique. The Pareto analysis assists them in identifying a few key issues that are most affecting the project. They then use the 5 whys technique to identify a solution to these pressing concerns.

How to Perform 5 Whys & 5 Hows

Form the Team

A cross-functional team should perform the 5 Why & 5 How to exercise. You cannot do it alone. The team should include members familiar with the issue and members from other departments. Each team member brings their unique viewpoint of the problem and asks questions they may not have otherwise come out.

Define the Issue

The first step in any root-cause analysis is to define the issue. Make a straightforward problem statement. The team should determine the scope of the issue. Defining the problem broadly may extend the time it takes to find solutions that do not fit the company’s culture and are thus unlikely to be implemented.

It saves effort and makes solving the problem easier when you define the problem up front.

Ask Why

Next, the facilitator should ask “Why” the problem occurred. The responses must be backed by facts, not by emotion. The reactions should focus on process or system errors.

The team leader should then ask the team if they corrected the identified causes and whether the failure mode or problem still occurs. If the answer to the first why is yes, proceed to the second “Why.” If the answer to the second “why” is still yes, ask the third “Why.” Keep asking for the fourth and the fifth time until the answer is no.

The First “Why?”

The team has been asked why this issue has occurred. Answers should be carefully considered and based on actual facts rather than a hunch about what happened. Many alternative reasons and deductive reasoning are avoided.

There could be only one clear explanation for the issue or several valid solutions. As a result, the facilitator should write short phrases in response to the problem statement.

Repeat the “Why” Four More Times

“Why?” should be asked four more times for each answer.

Stop When the Root Cause is Discovered

When “why?” no longer yields any valuable responses, the root cause is discovered. At this point, you will have a root cause of the problem.

Despite the name, it is not necessary to ask all 5 “whys?” or additional “whys?” Stop when responses are no longer helpful.

Determine and Implement Corrective Actions

Following the identification of the root cause(s), you should make a list of approved corrective activities to eradicate the issue’s root cause. You can utilize the 5 Hows method to figure out the answer. How, for example, may this problem be avoided? Continue to ask “How” until you find a solution that eliminates the root cause.

Evaluate Your Progress

Keep an eye on how well the remedy eliminates or diminishes the problem’s impact. It’s possible that you’ll need to alter or replace the solution. If this happens, repeat the 5 Whys procedure to ensure you’ve identified the correct root cause.

You should arrange regular status meetings with the team to keep everyone up to date on the status of the issues. You can evaluate the efficacy of your efforts after you’ve completed the recommended actions.

5 Whys Template

Below is an example of 5 Whys Analysis Template

5 Whys Template
5 Whys Template

5 Whys Analysis Examples

Let’s review the 5 Whys examples to understand this technique better.

Example 1

Problem Statement 

The client declined to pay the interim payment.

First Why

Why does the client refuse to make the advanced payment? 

We didn’t finish the activities on time.

Second Why

Why didn’t we finish the activity on time? 

Because the action took longer than expected.

Third Why

What led to the action taking longer than expected? 

First, we didn’t have enough materials for the exercise.

Fourth Why

Why didn’t we have enough supplies with us?

We didn’t buy the materials in time.

Fifth Why

Why didn’t we buy the materials sooner? 

We didn’t look at the job timetable.

Failure to analyze the job timetable is the root cause of the problem. 

Corrective Actions

To minimize the lack of communication and coordination, the project team should establish strong communication channels and hold regular progress meetings.

Example 2

Problem Statement

Children don’t go outside to play

5 whys table

Example 3

5 why example graph

Case Study: 5 Whys Analysis at Toyota

According to Taiichi Ohno, the creator of the Toyota Production System, the 5 whys are “the foundation of Toyota’s scientific approach.”

The Toyota Production System includes the 5 Whys technique, and it is a vital component of the Lean ideology.

“Whenever we find a problem, Toyota’s scientific strategy is to ask why 5 times.” “The nature of the root cause of the problem and its solution becomes obvious after 5 repetitions of why.” Ohno, Taiichi

Making critical decisions is an important part of executing a technique well. The judgment should be based on the facts on the ground. The root cause analysis method should include people with real-world experience. They are the only ones who can supply useful knowledge regarding difficulties in their area of expertise.

The Benefits of the 5 Whys

  1. It helps to identify more issues during the performance of the 5 Whys analysis for a difficulty.
  2. It encourages each team member to submit suggestions for ongoing improvement.
  3. It is a highly effective tool that is very easy to use.
  4. It allows you to find the root cause of your problem, not its symptoms.
  5. It avoids taking action without first determining if you’ve found the root cause of the problem.
  6. It assists you in creating a culture that values continual improvement.

What are the Limitations of the 5 Whys Method?

  1. Various people may provide different responses to the same problem’s cause. 
  2. The approach is useful if the team members involved are experienced and experts. 
  3. It’s possible that you may not recover completely from the problem’s main cause.

5 Whys Tools

The simplest way of conducting the 5 Whys test is to write it down on paper. 

Materials needed: Chart paper and pens or markers.

Procedure

On a paper sheet, draw a box at the top and put down the problem.

Draw 5 lines in descending order beneath the statement box.

Ask “why,” then write the answers on the lines drawn from one to 5.

Finding the root problem or remedy could take as few as 5 tries.

The fishbone diagram, often known as the Ishikawa diagram, can assist in the early stages of problem identification. In addition, the chart may highlight issues that require further investigation using the 5 whys.

Then, you can collect all root-cause-effect relationships and evaluate which of them had the most significant impact on the original problem.

Conclusion

The 5 Whys method is useful for determining and resolving a problem’s root cause. This method guarantees that the problem will not recur. You can’t utilize this strategy on every problem because it’s time-consuming. You may determine essential issues using the Pareto chart and then find the root cause using 5 Why. This assists you in resolving the majority of project challenges with the least amount of effort.