Use this free 5 whys template to analyse why something went wrong. It will help you understand the root cause of any problem in order to solve it effectively. We also offer a free online 5 Whys Root Cause Analysis Creator.
There is always a root cause whenever something goes wrong, but it’s not always apparent. Fortunately, there is a simple way to look at the issue and ask the right questions to get to the heart of the problem so you can resolve it. Using the the 5 why method, you can quickly and effectively narrow down the root cause, so you know what steps to take next. This system is so effective you can use it for any problem because it forces you to look only at the cause and effect that led to the situation.
What are the 5 Whys?
The 5 Whys is a problem-solving technique that is often used in root cause analysis (RCA). It is a simple and iterative process that involves asking “Why?” five times to uncover the root cause of a problem or issue.
In the context of RCA, the 5 Whys can help you identify the underlying factors that contribute to a problem or issue. By asking “Why?” repeatedly, you can dig deeper into the problem and uncover its root causes. This information can then be used to develop a solution that addresses the root cause, rather than just treating the symptoms.
The 5 Whys is a useful tool for RCA because it is straightforward and easy to use, and it can help you quickly identify the root cause of a problem. Additionally, it encourages you to think critically and creatively about the problem, which can lead to new insights and ideas for solving it.
The 5 Whys are not five different questions. Initially pioneered by Sakichi Toyoda, who believed that “by repeating why five times, the nature of the problem, as well as its solution, becomes clear.” The 5 Whys is a simple repeat of the question, “Why?” This surprisingly simple method is incredibly effective as a problem-solving tool.
For example, let’s say your home has a generator, and the power won’t come on. First, you ask why the power didn’t come on. Investigate the cause. Where did the power stop flowing? For this example, we’ll say an outdoor wire was severed. You then ask why the wire was severed. Let’s assume some outdoor tools stacked nearby fell on it and cut the line. Why did the tools fall? In this case, the tools fell because of the wind. We don’t need to ask why wind exists; instead, we ask why the tools were stacked out by that electric line in the wind. We’ll say that a teenager who did yardwork for you put them there. Why did they put the tools there? Perhaps you forgot to tell them where to put tools away, or maybe you need more storage space. Either way, you now know what happened, what needs fixing, and how to prevent it from happening again. You can use this 5 why analysis to uncover the root cause of nearly any problem you encounter.
How is the Method Used?
The 5 Whys are used in conjunction with the 5 Hows to determine the cause of a problem and then figure out the steps to resolve it. To apply this method, you ask the question “why” five times in a row. It shouldn’t take any more than that to come to a conclusion about how the causes of a problem contributed. Doing this will allow you to develop a quick and complete resolution. It’s essential to make sure you choose the right questions, as in the example above, where we asked why the tools were in the wind rather than a question about the wind itself. It doesn’t matter that wind exists, and you cannot stop the wind, so that wouldn’t be relevant or helpful.
Any ‘why’ that doesn’t actively contribute to a solution should be discarded. If you’re unsure if the ‘why’ is valid, ask how you would fix it. Even if you don’t currently possess the tools, skills, or other things you need to fix it, ask yourself if there is a way to solve the problem. You can’t change the fact that the wind blows, but you can provide shelter that blocks the wind or relocate things, so it’s a nonissue. Each why should lead to another why until you’ve uncovered all the critical facts.
Using Root Cause Analysis to Change Habits
Root cause analysis (RCA) is a problem-solving method that aims to identify the underlying factors that contribute to a problem or issue. By performing RCA on your habits, you can gain a deeper understanding of the causes of your habit, which can help you determine the most effective strategies for changing it.
- For example, if you have a habit of procrastinating on your work, RCA might reveal that the root cause of the habit is a lack of motivation, stress, or a lack of clear goals. With this information, you can take steps to address these underlying issues, such as setting clear, achievable goals, managing stress, or finding ways to increase your motivation.
- For example, if you have bad eating habits, RCA might reveal that you overeat due to stress, boredom, or emotional triggers such as anxiety or depression. With this information, you can take steps to address these underlying issues, such as finding healthy ways to manage stress, engaging in activities to reduce boredom, or seeking help for emotional issues. RCA can also help you identify any external factors that contribute to overeating, such as a lack of healthy food options, a sedentary lifestyle, or a lack of support from friends and family. By addressing these factors, you can create a more supportive environment that encourages healthier habits and helps you stop overeating.
RCA can help you change your habits by providing you with a structured and systematic approach to identify and address the root causes of the habit. By focusing on the underlying causes of the habit, rather than just its symptoms, you can create a more effective and sustainable plan for change.
See the examples related to habit changing below.
The Five Whys Templates
Choose any 5 whys diagram below to help you uncover the root of a problem. Each template has space for 5 why questions. You can also use the free online root cause analysis creator which will fill out the template for you.
5 Whys Examples
Applying the 5 Whys is simple, and you can use the charts below to help you apply it. Below is a 5 why example to show you how to use the 5 Whys chart. For this example, the problem is that a child is failing a class in school. You will see how asking why leads to a better understanding of the issue, allowing you to fix each contributing aspect. Creating your own chart is as simple as listing each question as it occurs, then asking why, as we’ve done here.
Applying The 5 Whys: Example
Problem: I keep eating junk food despite endless resolutions to eat healthy food.
This is another example that shows you why you have not managed to change your habits in the past.
- Why did I keep eating junk food even though I tried to diet? Because I really wanted to eat it.
- Why did I want to eat it? Because it made me feel good.
- Why did it make me feel good? Because it made me feel alert and focused.
- Why did I need to feel alert? Because I was very tired.
- Why was I tired? Because I didn’t sleep enough.
Root cause: Lack of sleep. Now that I got to the root cause, I realize that I must ensure I sleep enough or find other ways to feel more alert without using food. The analysis helped me get to the root cause.
Problem: A customer received a defective product.
- Why did the customer receive a defective product? Because the quality control check was not performed.
- Why was the quality control check not performed? Because the operator responsible for performing the check was absent.
- Why was the operator absent? Because there was no backup plan in place to cover the operator’s absence.
- Why was there no backup plan in place? Because the company did not have a standard operating procedure for backup planning.
- Why did the company not have a standard operating procedure for backup planning? Because the company did not have a formal process for developing and implementing standard operating procedures.
Root cause: Lack of a formal process for developing and implementing standard operating procedures.
Problem: A project is behind schedule.
- Why is the project behind schedule? Because one of the key team members is consistently missing deadlines.
- Why is the team member consistently missing deadlines? Because the team member is overloaded with work.
- Why is the team member overloaded with work? Because the team member has been assigned too many projects.
- Why has the team member been assigned too many projects? Because there is no clear process for prioritizing projects and workload.
- Why is there no clear process for prioritizing projects and workload? Because the company has not invested in project management training or tools.
Root cause: Lack of investment in project management training and tools.
Problem: A restaurant is receiving negative reviews for slow service.
- Why is the service slow? Because the kitchen is taking too long to prepare food.
- Why is the kitchen taking too long to prepare food? Because the kitchen staff is not properly trained.
- Why is the kitchen staff not properly trained? Because the restaurant is not investing in staff training.
- Why is the restaurant not investing in staff training? Because the restaurant is focused on cutting costs.
- Why is the restaurant focused on cutting costs? Because the restaurant is not making enough profit.
Root cause: Lack of profitability.
Problem: A person is not losing weight despite following a strict diet and exercise plan.
- Why is the person not losing weight? Because they are still consuming too many calories.
- Why are they consuming too many calories? Because they are not accurately tracking their food intake.
- Why are they not accurately tracking their food intake? Because they are not aware of the calorie content of the food they are eating.
- Why are they not aware of the calorie content of the food they are eating? Because they are not taking the time to read food labels or look up calorie information.
- Why are they not taking the time to read food labels or look up calorie information? Because they are too busy with work and other responsibilities.
Root cause: Lack of time management and prioritization skills.
In this case, the root cause is not directly related to diet or exercise, but rather a lack of time management skills that is preventing the person from accurately tracking their food intake and ultimately hindering their weight loss progress. Addressing the root cause by finding ways to manage time more effectively could help the person make progress towards their weight loss goals.
Problem: A person frequently eats when they are bored, even if they are not hungry.
- Why does the person eat when they are bored? Because they are looking for a way to pass the time.
- Why do they feel the need to pass the time? Because they are not engaged in meaningful activities.
- Why are they not engaged in meaningful activities? Because they do not have any hobbies or interests that they enjoy.
- Why do they not have any hobbies or interests that they enjoy? Because they have not taken the time to explore new activities or find things that they are passionate about.
- Why have they not taken the time to explore new activities or find things that they are passionate about? Because they are stuck in a routine and feel like they don’t have the time or energy to try new things.
Root cause: Lack of variety and engagement in life.
In this case, the root cause is not directly related to food or hunger, but rather a lack of variety and engagement in life that is leading the person to use food as a way to pass the time. Addressing the root cause by exploring new hobbies or finding ways to be more engaged in life could help the person break the habit of eating out of boredom.
Problem: A person is consistently procrastinating and missing deadlines at work.
- Why is the person procrastinating? Because they feel overwhelmed by the size or complexity of the tasks.
- Why do they feel overwhelmed? Because they have not broken the tasks down into smaller, manageable parts.
- Why have they not broken the tasks down into smaller, manageable parts? Because they are not sure where to start or how to prioritize the tasks.
- Why are they not sure where to start or how to prioritize the tasks? Because they have not received clear guidance or direction from their supervisor.
- Why have they not received clear guidance or direction from their supervisor? Because the supervisor is also feeling overwhelmed and is not managing their workload effectively.
Root cause: Poor task management and communication.
In this case, the root cause is not directly related to procrastination, but rather a lack of effective task management and communication within the workplace. Addressing the root cause by improving communication and providing clear guidance on task prioritization could help the person break the habit of procrastination and meet their deadlines more effectively.
Problem: A person is consistently procrastinating and struggling to complete their daily tasks.
- Why is the person procrastinating? Because they do not feel motivated to work on tasks that do not interest or inspire them.
- Why do they not feel motivated? Because they do not find the work meaningful or enjoyable.
- Why do they not find the work meaningful or enjoyable? Because the work is not aligned with their interests and passions.
- Why is the work not aligned with their interests and passions? Because the person did not pursue their true passions and instead chose a career path or job based on external factors such as financial stability or societal expectations.
Root cause: Lack of alignment between career and personal passions.
In this case, the root cause is that the person did not pursue their true passions and instead chose a career path or job based on external factors. This lack of alignment between their personal passions and their career is leading to a lack of motivation and engagement, which is manifesting as procrastination and difficulty completing tasks that do not inspire them. Addressing the root cause by exploring their personal passions and finding ways to incorporate them into their work could help the person break the habit of procrastination and achieve greater fulfillment and engagement in their work. See how to find your purpose or passion.
Problem: A person is struggling to pay off their credit card debt.
- Why is the person struggling to pay off their credit card debt? Because they are not earning enough income to cover their expenses and make significant debt payments.
- Why are they not earning enough income? Because they are not in a high-paying job and have not pursued additional education or training to increase their earning potential.
- Why have they not pursued additional education or training? Because they do not have the financial resources or time to do so.
- Why do they not have the financial resources or time? Because they are living beyond their means and spending money on non-essential items or experiences.
- Why are they living beyond their means? Because they do not have a clear understanding of their expenses and have not developed a budget or financial plan to manage their money effectively.
Root cause: Lack of financial literacy and poor money management habits.
In this case, the root cause is not directly related to the credit card debt itself, but rather a lack of financial literacy and poor money management habits that have led the person to live beyond their means and accumulate debt. Addressing the root cause by improving financial literacy and developing a budget or financial plan could help the person break the cycle of debt and achieve greater financial stability.
Problem: Lack of focus/not paying attention
- Why is the child not paying attention? Sitting near another kid who is distracting them
- Why? The other student is sitting nearby on purpose to bully them
- Why? They had an argument on the playground
- Why? There weren’t enough balls for the basketball court
- Why? Nobody noticed that there weren’t enough balls
Root Cause: As you can see, asking a few simple questions revealed a lot here. The lack of focus is because another student is bullying this child for refusing to give up their ball on the playground. While it’s best to discuss the issue with the teacher, several effective ways exist to address the whole situation, rather than making a ‘bandaid’ style temporary fix, like having the student bring more work home.
You can use the same list of answers to your ‘why’ chart to make a ‘how’ chart. Rather than asking why something happened, you look at the answer and ask how to fix it. For the chart above, you would first ask how to help them focus, then how you can stop those students from sitting near one another. You might ask how the other student is getting away with bullying or how they are causing distractions. Then you’d need to know how to stop the students from arguing over sports equipment. Finally, you realize the school doesn’t have enough to go around, so you ask how to get more basketballs to this school. Not only will the distraction problem get solved, but you will be able to prevent a recurrence by removing all the contributing factors.
What is the Purpose of Using the Root Cause Analysis 5 Whys?
Although plenty of problem-solving tools are available, few are as quick and effective as the 5 whys root cause analysis. The purpose of using this analysis is to ensure you completely understand why something went wrong. Choosing this method helps you get to the root and offers insight into all the contributing aspects. As a result, you can create a more complete fix by approaching an issue from this angle. Addressing the many more minor problems that helped create a more significant situation means you can help prevent future recurrences and stop those little things from compounding until there is a more substantial issue.
Uses for Root Cause Analysis
- Habit changing: RCA can be used to gain a deeper understanding of the causes of your habit, which can help you determine the most effective strategies for changing it.
- Quality control: RCA can be used to identify the root cause of defects or problems in a manufacturing process, and to implement corrective actions to prevent the problem from reoccurring.
- Healthcare: RCA can be used to identify the root cause of adverse events in a healthcare setting, and to develop strategies to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
- Safety: RCA can be used to identify the root cause of accidents or incidents in a workplace or other environment, and to develop strategies to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. By asking “why” five times, you can identify the contributing factors and take corrective action to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
- IT: RCA can be used to identify the root cause of problems or outages in an IT system, and to implement corrective actions to prevent similar problems from happening in the future.
- Customer service: RCA can be used to identify the root cause of customer complaints, and to develop strategies to improve the customer experience and prevent similar complaints from happening in the future.
- Business process improvement: RCA can be used to identify the root cause of inefficiencies or problems in a business process, and to develop strategies to improve the process and increase efficiency.
- Problem-solving: Use the 5 Whys to identify the root cause of a problem or issue that has occurred. By asking “why” five times, you can often uncover the underlying cause of the problem, rather than just addressing the symptoms.
- Continuous improvement: Use the 5 Whys to identify areas of improvement in a process or system. By asking “why” five times, you can uncover opportunities to streamline processes, reduce waste, and improve efficiency.
The 5 Whys technique can be used to uncover the root cause of a wide range of problems, including but not limited to:
- Quality issues in manufacturing or service delivery
- Equipment or machinery breakdowns
- Communication breakdowns
- Customer complaints or negative feedback
- Employee turnover or low morale
- Safety incidents or accidents
- Environmental incidents or accidents
- Supply chain disruptions
- Financial losses or underperformance
By asking “why” repeatedly, the 5 Whys technique helps to dig deeper into the problem and identify the underlying causes or contributing factors. This allows for a more targeted and effective approach to problem-solving, as it addresses the root cause rather than just treating the symptoms.
Using this approach, you can quickly, efficiently, and effectively root out almost any problem. Doing this allows you to pinpoint rapid solutions for whatever issues arise. Although these are generally used in a work setting, you can also apply this idea to other aspects of your life. Whenever you have a problem, ask why. Then keep asking why until you have narrowed it down to a simple issue you can resolve quickly. After that, you ask how to change each ‘why’ answer.