The 5 Whys Template: Simple Steps to Get to the Root Cause of a Problem

5 whys templateThe “5 Whys” technique is a simple question asking process or activity that organizations use to get to the root cause of a problem. It involves discussions between the various cross-functional teams to analyze “what went wrong” in a process by continuously asking the “why” question. It helps us to traverse through the numerous layers of symptoms and reach the most probable causes that could have led to the problem at hand. Normally the questioning process goes on for more than 5 whys to truly understand the factors and thoroughly analyze the issue. In companies or projects using the Six Sigma methodology, the 5-whys technique forms the basis of finding the cause of a defect and ensures that corrective actions are taken to avoid re-occurrence. To learn more about Six Sigma, you can check out this awesome Six Sigma primer course by GreyCampus.

If you use the Six Sigma best practices in your workplace and in project design, development or implementation, you will find the 5 Whys tool to be very effective in solving critical problems in your processes. Organizations have successfully adopted this Japanese concept to analyze and fix problems. If implemented properly, it can bring about a positive change in the defect identification methods and lead to great value-addition in the quality control processes. Here, we will discuss the various features of the 5-whys technique, its benefits and a step-by-step approach to using the tool to improve the quality of a process. For an in-depth understanding of the 5 whys template and it benefits, visit our Six Sigma Green Belt training.

Basic Principle of 5 Whys

The underlying principle of 5 Whys technique is to state the problem at hand and work around asking “why” questions related to the important categories of any process – People, Methods, Machinery, Materials, Measurement, and Environment. It’s a simple brainstorming tool that helps your quality teams to break down the problem and represent the issues in a Fishbone Diagram (cause and effect diagram). From thereon, the team members try to find out the root causes instead of focusing on the symptoms of a problem. Questions are asked in a iterative way until all the factors are taken into consideration and the 5 Whys analysis is conducted in a disciplined way.

For example, say there has been a quality problem in one of the products your team developed. You will start the 5 Why analysis, by asking questions like “Why did the feature not work?” or “Why did the testing not detect the problem”. The answers to these questions lead to the next level of the why questions and you slowly go to the deeper problem areas like “Why didn’t the management provide enough resources for testing the product?” You will find that often the root causes majorly rise from management related problems and this helps improve the practices in an organization.

 Benefits of 5 Whys Analysis

  • It helps find the root cause of the problem and not just provide quick-fixes to the issues at hand
  • By questioning repeatedly, you can move beyond the symptoms and find the relationship between the various causes thereby reaching a valid conclusion
  • Simple to use, easy to understand and can be effectively used to improve quality

The 5 Whys Analysis Template

The 5 Whys analysis template consists of a problem statement, symptoms, why questions and identification of probable causes leading to the root cause detection. The analysis can be done using the Fishbone Diagram (Ishikawa) or by using a table for process mapping. While the fishbone diagram follows the simple cause and effect kind of structure for analysis, the tabular format lists down the various reasons in a step-by-step manner.

The principle in both methods remains the same and consists of the following steps:

  1. Identify and state the problem in a simple statement
  2. Ask “why did this happen” and try to answer with all probable causes
  3. For each of the causes suggested, ask further whys and list down all the answers. Normally 5 and more “whys” are required to reach the bottom of a problem
  4. You will know you have reached the final why when there is no further explanation or reason to ask a “why” question. Normally, by the end of 6-7 whys, you would reach the root cause of the problem and will be encouraged to look at the deeper problems associated, like management practices etc.

This analysis should be conducted with discipline and without any bias or a narrow-minded approach to finding causes. Sometimes, you may end up with multiple root causes to a problem. In such cases, you should give priority to attacking the cause that is the most serious of all, and thereby find solutions to each of the causes one by one. If you’d like to learn more about the working of a 5 Whys analysis, check out this course on the Six Sigma Methodology.

Should You Use 5 Whys Analysis?

If you and your teams have worked first-hand on a project and know the intricate details of its processes, then you must use 5 Whys technique to identify the potential causes of a defect or failure. Though the method is based on the kind of questions asked and the opinion of the individuals, you can solve the issues effectively with a disciplined approach. Try to focus on the truth and facts instead of speculating on the probable reasons or resorting to the blame-game tactics. The solutions will be more reliable if the questioning process is performed with all fairness and with honesty.

In short, if you are working in an environment that involves interaction with cross-functional teams or with a lot of process-oriented methods, then there is a high possibility of occurrence of errors, defects or failures. The success of your quality control methods lies in the early detection of the root cause of the failures and the efficacy of their solutions. The 5 Whys analysis increases the efficiency and reliability of your quality process. With an easy-to-use 5 Whys template, chart out a smarter way to get to the bottom of a problem and address your quality problems effectively. To be more effective, you may want to go straight for a combined Green and Black Belt Six Sigma certification with this course.