The 5 Whys is a great technique used to understand the underlying root causes of a particular problem. This video provides a simple and easy to understand definition of The 5 Whys and an excellent example of how it’s used!
Example source credit – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_Whys
Transcription of This Video
Hi, my name’s Adam Ramshaw. I’m from Genroe, and today’s question is “What is the 5 Whys Root-Cause Analysis Approach and how do you use it? What is it?” The 5 Whys Root-Cause Approach is a really simple way to go from a problem statement down to the root cause in a business. It’s really simple to use, really effective to use, and really fast to use. It’s a great tool to go out, take customer commentary or customer feedback and to turn it into root causes for your business that you can affect and change. How do you use the 5 Whys analysis approach? It’s really simple.
The first thing to do is identify a problem statement. So take your customer feedback or in some way identify what the problem statement is. You need to be really clear on what the problem statement is. If you don’t get that problem statement clear, then everything you do might be the wrong way or solving the wrong problem. So spend some time and make sure you get that problem statement just right.
The next thing you do is say why did this happen? Or you ask why did this happen? What caused the problem statement? And you do that. When you ask that question you look at the response you get to that question and say is the thing I’m looking at here the root cause? Is it the bottom-line issue that we have that’s going to solve, or the root cause that’s going to solve this problem, if we fix this root cause?
Ask yourself that. If you don’t think it’s the root cause, and most often it’s not in the first time, ask the question again. Why did this happen? What caused this issue? What caused this second-stage problem? Ask again, and get another answer. You continue to do that, go through the process until you get to what is really the root cause that you’re looking at in the business.
Typically it will take you five times. You’ll need to ask the why question five times before you get to the Root-Cause element. Before you really understand what’s at the bottom-line issue, or what’s the real issue that you’re looking at. That’s why it’s called the 5 Whys process.
When you get to that bottom why, then of course you have to go away and fix that root cause you’ve got, what that Root-Cause issue is in the business. But you can only do that when you get to the real root cause.
What’s this look like in practice? Let me give you a real example of how this 5 Whys process works. Let’s say the problem statement was we walked out of the car park and our car didn’t work. Wouldn’t start. So the problem statement is: “The vehicle would not start” or “the car would not start”.
We have a bit of a look around, identify. Then we ask why it doesn’t start. So we do a bit of checking and find it won’t start because the battery is dead. So, the first problem statement is the vehicle would not start. The first why answer is it won’t start because the battery is dead. But that’s not really the root cause. We need to ask again. Why is the battery dead?
We look at it and identify that the problem is that the alternator isn’t functioning, so the second why is “The alternator is not functioning.” Okay, that’s not the root cause either, so let’s go back and have another look at it. Now we identify, did a bit more research, we find out that the problem is “The alternator belt is broken.” That’s your third why, the alternator belt was broken.
Even then, that’s not the final analysis or root cause. Let’s look again. Ask why was the alternator belt broken? The alternator belt was broken because it was beyond its useful life, it was too old. It wasn’t replaced in the time it should’ve been replaced. That looks like the root cause, but even that’s not the root cause. Let’s go one stage further.
The next stage is the reason that the alternator belt was beyond its useful service life was because the vehicle hadn’t been maintained according to the recommendations in the service schedule. Now we really have the bottom-line root cause: the vehicle hadn’t been maintained properly.
Although I’m standing in the car park with a car that’s not working, and yes, we do have to fix the battery now, the real thing we need to do is go back and look at that root cause. We need to make sure that our vehicle is properly maintained, so we’re never standing in a car park again. That’s a really simple example of the way the 5 Whys process works:
Problem statement: vehicle will not start.
First Why: the battery is dead.
Second Why: because the alternator’s not functioning.
Third Why: because the alternator belt was broken.
Fourth Why: because the alternator belt was way beyond its usable service life.
Fifth and final Why and root cause: the vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule.
That’s your 5 Whys process. You can see very quickly you can get to the root cause of an issue. That’s an example of the 5 Whys process. You need to be careful of a couple of things when you do the 5 Whys process.
The first one is don’t relax too soon. It would’ve been really simple to say the battery’s dead, we need to replace the battery. But that just would mean in another day’s time the alternator belt would break and the battery would be dead again. We would’ve been back in the same place. Don’t give up too early. Make sure you go all the way through the process.
The second one is you can sometimes get into a circular loop, where you go back to the start. You find yourself back at the problem statement. If you do that and it does happen occasionally, look really closely at your 5 Whys. Make sure that all the whys are real and are the real why that the problem is talking about. Make sure you don’t get distracted or focus on the wrong part of the problem statement.
The last one is keep following the sense. Sometimes when you do this 5 Whys process, you find there are two whys in answer to the why above it. If there are two whys, don’t pick one and go with that. Take both of them and run the 5 Whys process completely down for both elements of that tree. Then you get to both root causes.
Of course, when you finish the 5 Whys process, and you’ve got your root cause, you need to fix the current problem that you’ve got which is the battery’s dead. You need to replace the battery. But you also need to fix the root cause, which is you need to service the car properly and according to the schedule. If you don’t do the root cause, you’re just going to find yourself back at the start with the same problem again.
That’s the 5 Whys process and that’s how it works. It’s a really valuable process in the customer-feedback business if you can use it, you could be absolutely using it as often as you can. Thanks very much. If you have questions on a customer-feedback process, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.