How to Analyse your Problems using the “5 Why’s” Technique

Welcome to 2020! Covid19 and a vastly changed world.

Never in the history of all our working lives have we had to endure so much upheaval, uncertainty and, quite frankly – fear.

We need to adapt and to change the way we approach problems and challenges.

The ‘5 Whys’ Technique seeks to find the true root cause/s of a problem, not the symptom. If we know the root cause, we can develop a solution that attacks the cause, not the symptom. If we tackle the symptom-believing it’s the problem, the problem will keep repeating.

The ‘5 Whys’ Technique in Action

You start the ‘5 Why’s’ Technique by writing down what the problem is, as best as you can identify it (see the example below). You then ask ‘why does the problem exist?’. You write down the answer to that question on a whiteboard or post it note. You then ask, ‘why does that answer to the previous question exist’ and repeat the process 5 times or until you arrive at a logical conclusion – again see the example below. It’s best done as a team exercise, though you can do it alone.

The ‘5 Whys’ may show you that the source of the problem is quite unexpected. Often, issues that are considered as say, a technical problem, turn out to be human and process problems.

Therefore, finding and eliminating the root cause is crucial if you want to avoid repeated failures.

‘5 Whys’ Example

Problem: ‘We didn’t send the newsletter for latest software updates on time’.


1. Why didn’t we send the newsletter on time?

Answer: Updates were not implemented until the deadline.

2. Why were the updates not implemented on time?

Answer: Because the developers were still working on the new features.

3. Why were the developers still working on the new features?

Answer: One of the new developers didn’t know the procedures.

4. Why was the new developer unfamiliar with all procedures?

Answer: He was not trained properly.

5. Why was he not trained properly?

Answer: Because the CTO believes that new employees don’t need thorough training and they should learn while working.


See how the root cause of the problem is something completely different from the initial description of the problem. Further, it’s obvious that it’s a process issue, not a technological one. This is typical because we often focus on a technical or product part of a problem and we neglect the human factor.

Please note, “5” is just a number. Ask “Why” as many times as you need to complete the process and take appropriate actions.

It might take you just 2 or 3 Why’s, 8 or 10. It doesn’t matter as long as you get to the root cause!

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