The Five Whys Analysis FAQ

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There are some very common questions about the five why analysis . Here are some of the most frequently asked ones. By Karn G. Bulsuk ...

There are some very common questions about the five why analysis. Here are some of the most frequently asked ones.

By Karn G. Bulsuk




The five whys are just one way of finding the root cause of a problem, but arguably one of the most well-known methods. For such a popular methodology, it has gained its fair share of questions on its usage: of which some of the most popular and frequently asked are answered here.

Why only 5-whys? Why can't I ask why more than five times to achieve, six, even or even eight whys?

There's nothing stopping you from going beyond five-whys. There are some cases where you should if you still haven't logically reached the root cause by the time you get to five. It's more likely though, that if you're going over five-whys, it's likely that the line of inquiry is becoming too detailed and unlikely to reach the root cause. 

Going over five whys for your root cause analysis will get tiring and tedious very quickly, especially if you've branched out into analysing a large number of possible root causes. The reason why five is a good number is that it forces you into keeping the analysis short and sweet, preventing fatigue without sacrificing quality of results.

Can I ask "why" fewer than five times?

In most cases, an inability to reach up to five whys indicates that the line of inquiry is not deep enough and the conclusion unlikely to be the root cause. In such a case, it is best to try to carry on by asking "why" over and over again. If the cause simply doesn't lend itself to being asked "why", then it may be time to abandon that line of inquiry.

When I did my 5-whys analysis, I came up with a number of "stupid" root causes. Should I also use that?

The 5-whys don't require that you leave your common sense at the door. If some of the root causes simply don't make sense, you can always pick some of the other root causes that do make sense.

Is there a way to visualise the five whys, so I can see what I'm analysing?

You can use an Excel spreadsheet to perform five whys analysis. The strength of this technique is that you have the tools ready on your computer, and since you can add more columns easily, you can branch out your analysis as much as necessary.

You can also what is known as a fishbone diagram, which is also known as an Ishikawa diagram. This technique is more suitable for those who prefer paper-and-pen. The strength of this technique is that it helps you to classify your causes into broad categories, focusing your analysis.

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More questions? Ask away in the comments below!


Photo credit: KayVee.INC

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