Using 5 Whys To Find The Root Cause Of A Problem

Using 5 whys can help you determine the root cause of a problem instead of just dealing with the symptoms.  This article looks at the 7 step process of using the model.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Andrew Whittle, 29 Sep 2021.

If you work in quality you’ll have to deal with problems from time to time. It might be something small that only requires a quick fix, however if you keep suffering from the same problem then it’s likely that you’re only dealing with the symptoms of a deeper issue.

To fix it you need to find the root cause of the problem. Only then can you make the necessary changes to your processes to stop the problem from happening again.

One way we can do this is using a tool called ‘5 whys’.

What Is 5 Whys?

It’s a technique that was developed in the 1930’s by Sakichi Toyoda, the inventor and founder of Toyota Industries.

Using 5 whys is pretty simple. The technique literally involves asking the question “Why?” 5 times in order to find an appropriate solution to the problem.

One thing to remember is that using 5 whys is most effective when the answers come from people who have hands-on experience of the process or the problem in question.

Using 5 Whys

The model itself follows a very simple seven-step process:

Step 1: Start by Assembling a Team.

They should be familiar with the specifics of the problem, and with the process that you’re trying to fix.

Step 2: Define the Problem

Work together to write a problem statement that briefly but clearly defines what the problem is.

Step 3: Ask the First "Why?"

Between you, ask why the problem is occurring?

This sounds simple but answering it should be require some serious thought.  One thing to note is that your answers must be supported by facts.  Don’t just guess at what might have gone wrong.

There might be one obvious reason for the problem or several other plausible ones and you should record these below your problem statement.

Step 4: Ask "Why?" Four More Times

Ask four further “why’s” for every answer you gave in Step 3, framing the question in response to the answer you record each time.

Step 5: Understand When to Stop

You’ll know when you’ve found the root cause of the problem when asking “why” produces no more useful responses.  An appropriate solution to the problem should become clear by this point.

Step 6: Address the Root Cause

Once you have found the root cause, the team should discuss and agree on the solution that will prevent the problem from recurring again in the future.

Step 7: Monitor Your Results

Once you’ve applied the appropriate solution make sure you monitor its results in reducing or eliminating the initial problem. It will tell you whether the solution is successful or whether further amendments are required.

If it doesn’t work then repeat the 5 why’s process until you find you find a solution that is successful.

5 Whys Training

Are you interested in training your team on using tools like 5 whys to determine the root cause of problems at your company?  We can tailor a course to suit your objectives and deliver this at your site.  For more information visit our root cause analysis course page below.