5 Whys

Purpose

To discover the causes of recurring problems or challenges.

When To Run This

  • You want to cut through multiple issues to get to the underlying cause.
  • You need to do an In-Depth Interview session to get to the human and emotional roots of a problem.

Time

30 minutes - 1 hour

Input

  • The problem statement

Materials

  • A team of stakeholders
  • “5 Whys” template

Downloads

TheSteps

Prepare:Prepare:

  • Define the problem. Work with your team to create your problem statement together. This helps to bring your group together to focus on a specific challenge. Remember to keep it concise.

  • Write it down in the problem statement box of the template — this is your conversation starting point.

  • Create your team. When you’ve found the problem, find more people who can give you insights into your problem and add them to your team — these could be end users or client stakeholders.

Action It:Action It:

  • Start by asking broad questions. Get your team warmed up and set the context for the problem statement.

  • Ask the first “why”. This is usually, “why do we have this problem?” or “why is this problem occuring?”.

  • Discuss the responses. Find out which ones are grounded in facts and which events have actually happened.

  • Record their answers under your problem statement. Choose one answer, rewrite it as your second problem statement and put it into the next part of the template. 

  • Ask “why?” 4 more times. Get the ball rolling again by asking “why is that so?”. Keep asking until you feel that your team has come to the root cause of the problem or a key insight.

Next Steps:Next Steps:

Considerations

Considerations

  • You’re looking for depth, avoid asking horizontal questions. For example, ask questions like “Why weren’t you able to buy the fertilizer you needed?” rather than “Why else didn’t you get a good harvest this year?”.
  • You’re looking for insights, a statement that makes you go “Aha!”. This signals when you need to stop or ask a final “Why?”. 
  • The “5” is just a guide. You can keep asking “why?” if the root causes haven’t appeared, or stop earlier if useful responses stop coming.
Signals

Signals

It's Going Well When:

  • Responses keep coming.
  • Responses direct you quickly to the underlying problem.

Watch Out For:

  • The same 2-3 responses going around in a circle - try using other prompts. E.g “Why did that happen?”, “What caused it?”, “Why did you feel that way?”.
  • Blame placing - set the scene before starting your session with ground rules that place emphasis on respect for each other
  • Non-deductive reasoning - make sure that statements are always anchored with facts or real past events.
  • Unconstructive responses - when answers are getting harder or going in loops, this is a good time to stop.

Whatsnext?