5-whys Analysis using an Excel Spreadsheet Table


Find out how to visualize your five-whys analysis by putting it into a spreadsheet, including a down...

Find out how to visualize your five-whys analysis by putting it into a spreadsheet, including a downloadable five why template and tutorial. Part 2 of a four part series on 5-whys.

By Karn G. Bulsuk

More information: An Introduction to 5-whys, 5-whys Analysis using a Fishbone Diagram and The Weaknesses of 5-Whys

Downloads: 5-whys Template Download and Step-by-step example on how to perform a 5-why analysis
Visualizing your 5-whys analysis in a table is the best way to show the causal links between your causes and the ultimate root causes. One of the easiest ways to do this is to put it into a spreadsheet - the 5-why Excel spreadsheet template as well as the example in the article is available for download at the bottom of this article.

Imagine that there is a company called Alencia which specializes in receiving outsourced executive recruitment work, where they match talent to specific jobs and receive commission for doing so.

In the past year, demand has boomed and their business has expanded rapidly, but at a price: while demand has increased, capacity has remained the same, leading to a large back log of job requests. Previous attempts to bring in a computerized system have been met with staff resistance and failed. Clients and potential job seekers are both unhappy with the slow service, and are gradually turning away to more nimble competitors.

Mio has been put in charge of fixing the current problems, and has been given full authority to act. To keep things simple, she looked for the root causes using the table method.

Setting Up the Excel Sheet

In Excel, Mio arranges the table so that it has twelve columns, and set up like in the illustration below. Each “why” column will contain your why analysis, while each column in between will consist of arrows leading your reader to the correct Why.

The root cause analysis column will contain all the root causes you identified, while the recurrence prevention column will contain your recommendations on how to prevent it from happening again.

To help you save time on setup, a template in Microsoft Office format can be downloaded at the end of this article.

The First Why

The first why Mio asks comes directly from the stated problem: “Why are processing of jobs delayed?” From here, she can identify two main causes:

Why Question Answers
Why are processing of jobs delayed?
  1. There is no computerized solution to handle job applications.
  2. There was no formal set of procedures to handle job requests, and procedures were passed on by mouth as opposed to being documented.

Mio maps those two causes in the “Why 1” column of the spreadsheet.

The Second Why

If there is more than one answer to a “why” question, they will handled separately when it comes to their turn to ask why.

Why Question Answers
Why is there no computerized solution to handle job applications?
  1. There was staff resistance

Why was there was no formal set of procedures to handle job requests, and why were procedures were passed on by mouth as opposed to being documented?
  1. There was no system in place to do so.

She would then add the answer in the “Why 2” column, with an arrow to link the chain-of-reasoning together.

The Third Why

This part demonstrates how there can be multiple answers to a Why question, and how to deal with a branching Why analysis.

Why Question Answers
Why was there staff resistance?
  1. They were not explained the full benefits of the system.
  2. They feared being made redundant.
  3. They were uncomfortable about changing the way they worked

Why wasn’t there a system in place to handle job requests?
  1. The company grew at an exponential rate that there was no time to document anything.

To map this out, Mio would add each answer to its own individual cell in “Why 3”. As you can see, each are legitimate answers to the question, and such branching will help us to obtain a much deeper and wider 5-why analysis.

The Fourth Why

This set of whys are becoming more involved, but not more difficult as the same basic principles still apply. She asks “why” to the previous point, and then writes down her answers in the “Why 4” column.

Why Question Answers
Why were staff not explained the full benefits of the system?
  1. There was a lack of communication.

Why did they fear being made redundant?
  1. They thought the computer system was designed to replace them.

Why were they uncomfortable about changing the way they worked?
  1. They had always been doing it this way.
  2. The positive aspects of the change were not communicated.

Why did the company grow at an exponential rate that there was no time to document anything?
  1. There was insufficient planning

If you notice, the third why which says “they were uncomfortable about changing the way they worked” branches out into another two whys. Even at this stage, there could be several answers to the why question.

The Fifth Why

At the final why, you should be focusing on wrapping up your analysis and identifying the root causes of the problem.

Why Question Answers
Why was there was a lack of communication? We assumed that the benefits were obvious.
Why did they think the computer system was designed to replace them? Because we didn't tell them how it would help make their jobs easier.
Why had they always been doing it this way? All the work was done manually prior.
Why were the positive aspects of the change were not communicated? We assumed that the benefits were obvious.
Why was there was insufficient planning? Top management were too busy fire fighting and dealing with operational work, rather than developing a strategy.

Root Causes

At the end of your analysis, you will often come up with a series of common root causes. In this analysis, Mio has identified the following root causes, and the following solutions to prevent them from happening again:

Main Root Cause Identified Recurrence Prevention
Insufficient communication in the following areas:

- Benefits of bringing in a computerized system.
- How the computerized system will assist them in their jobs and not make them redundant.
Develop a communication strategy to clearly inform staff of the benefits of a software system to them, and to reassure them that it is not designed to replace their jobs.
No culture of change and sense of insecurity among staff. Include change management in implementation plan. Also, assure staff that comprehensive training will be offered in order to allay fears of change.
Management level: poor work delegation and lack of advanced planning leads management to engage in operational level work, and to fire fight instead of focusing on the strategic level. Develop vision, and coordinate resources to free up management to engage in strategic planning. Hire more people as necessary, and implement a computerized system.

So at the end…

With these findings, Mio is now equipped to develop a strategic plan to solve the current problems at Alencia.


Please note that the Excel 2007 files have more comprehensive formatting which is not present in the Excel 97-2003 versions, due to program limitations.



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Karn G. Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead: 5-whys Analysis using an Excel Spreadsheet Table
5-whys Analysis using an Excel Spreadsheet Table
Karn G. Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead
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