ArticlePDF Available

Abstract

When confronted with a problem, have you ever stopped and asked “why” five times? If you do not ask the right question, you will not get the right answer. The Five Whys is a simple question-asking technique that explores the cause-and-effect relationships underlying problems.
Cornell University ILR School
DigitalCommons@ILR
International Publications Key Workplace Documents
2-1-2009
e Five Whys Technique
Olivier Serrat
Asian Development Bank
Follow this and additional works at: hp://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/intl
is Article is brought to you for free and open access by the Key Workplace Documents at DigitalCommons@ILR. It has been accepted for inclusion
in International Publications by an authorized administrator of DigitalCommons@ILR. For more information, please contact jdd10@cornell.edu.
e Five Whys Technique
Abstract
{Excerpt} When confronted with a problem, have you ever stopped and asked “why” ve times? If you do not
ask the right question, you will not get the right answer. e Five Whys is a simple question asking technique
that explores the cause-and-eect relationships underlying problems.
For every eect there is a cause. But the results chain between the two is fairly long and becomes ner as one
moves from inputs to activities, outputs, outcome, and impact. In results-based management, the degree of
control one enjoys decreases higher up the chain and the challenge of monitoring and evaluating
correspondingly increases. In due course, when a problem appears, the temptation is strong to blame others or
external events. Yet, the root cause of problems oen lies closer to home.
Keywords
Asian Development Bank, ADB, poverty, economic growth, sustainability, development
Comments
Suggested Citation
Serrat, O. (2010). e ve ways technique. Washington, DC: Asian Development Bank.
Required Publisher's Statement
ADB encourages printing or copying information exclusively for personal and noncommercial use with
proper acknowledgment of ADB.
is article is available at DigitalCommons@ILR: hp://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/intl/198
February 2009 | 30
Knowledge
Solutions
When confronted
with a problem, have
you ever stopped
and asked “why”
ve times? If you
do not ask the right
question, you will not
get the right answer.
The Five Whys is
a simple question-
asking technique
that explores the
cause-and-effect
relationships
underlying problems.
The Five Whys
Technique
by Olivier Serrat
Rationale
For every effect there is a cause. But the results chain be-
tween the two is fairly long and becomes ner as one moves
from inputs to activities, outputs, outcome, and impact.1 In
results-based management,2 the degree of control one enjoys
decreases higher up the chain and the challenge of monitor-
ing and evaluating correspondingly increases.
In due course, when a problem appears, the temptation is
strong to blame others or external events. Yet, the root cause
of problems often lies closer to home.
The Five Whys Technique
When looking to solve a problem, it helps to begin at the end result, reect on what caused
that, and question the answer ve times.3 This elementary and often effective approach to
problem solving promotes deep thinking through questioning, and can be adapted quickly
and applied to most problems.4 Most obviously and directly, the Five Whys technique
relates to the principle of systematic problem-solving: without the intent of the principle,
the technique can only be a shell of the process. Hence, there are three key elements to ef-
fective use of the Five Whys technique: (i) accurate and complete statements of problems,5
(ii) complete honesty in answering the questions, (iii) the determination to get to the bot-
1 Inputs, activities, and outputs are within the direct control of an intervention’s management. An outcome is
what an intervention can be expected to achieve and be accountable for. An impact is what an intervention is
expected to contribute to.
2 Results-based management is a life-cycle management philosophy and approach that emphasizes results in
integrated planning, implementing, monitoring, reporting, learning, and changing. Demonstrating results is
important for credibility, accountability, and continuous learning, and to inform decision-making and resource
allocation.
3 Five is a good rule of thumb. By asking “why” five times, one can usually peel away the layers of symptoms that
hide the cause of a problem. But one may also find one needs to ask “why” fewer times, or conversely more.
4 Root cause analysis is the generic name of problem-solving techniques. The basic elements of root causes
are materials, equipment, the man-made or natural environment, information, measurement, methods
and procedures, people, management, and management systems. Other tools can be used if the Five Whys
technique does not intuitively direct attention to one of these. They include barrier analysis, change analysis,
causal factor tree analysis, and the Ishikawa (or fishbone) diagram.
5 By repeating “why” five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.
Knowledge
Solutions
tom of problems and resolve them. The technique was
developed by Sakichi Toyoda for the Toyota Industries
Corporation.
Process
The Five-Whys exercise is vastly improved when applied
by a team and there are ve basic steps to conducting it:
Gather a team and develop the problem statement in
agreement. After this is done, decide whether or not
additional individuals are needed to resolve the prob-
lem.
Ask the rst "why" of the team: why is this or that problem taking place? There will probably be three
or four sensible answers: record them all on a ip chart or whiteboard, or use index cards taped to a wall.
Ask four more successive "whys," repeating the process for every statement on the ip chart, white-
board, or index cards. Post each answer near its "parent." Follow up on all plausible answers. You will
have identied the root cause when asking "why" yields no further useful information. (If necessary,
continue to ask questions beyond the arbitrary ve layers to get to the root cause.)
Among the dozen or so answers to the last asked "why" look for systemic causes of the problem. Discuss
these and settle on the most likely systemic cause. Follow the team session with a debrieng and show
the product to others to conrm that they see logic in the analysis.
After settling on the most probable root cause of the problem and obtaining conrmation of the logic
behind the analysis, develop appropriate corrective actions to remove the root cause from the system.
The actions can (as the case demands) be undertaken by others but planning and implementation will
benet from team inputs.
Five Whys Worksheet
Why is that?
Define the problem:
Why is it happening?
Why is that?
Why is that?
Why is that?
For Want of a Nail
For want of a nail the shoe is lost;
For want of a shoe the horse is lost;
For want of a horse the rider is lost;
For want of a rider the battle is lost;
For want of a battle the kingdom is lost;
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
—George Herbert
Source: Author
Five Whys Technique
3
Caveat
The Five Whys technique has been criticized as too basic a tool to analyze root causes to the depth required
to ensure that the causes are xed. The reasons for this criticism include:
The tendency of investigators to stop at symptoms, and not proceed to lower-level root causes.
The inability of investigators to cast their minds beyond current information and knowledge.
Lack of facilitation and support to help investigators ask the right questions.
The low repeat rate of results: different teams using the Five Whys technique have been known to come
up with different causes for the same problem.
Clearly, the Five Whys technique will suffer if it is applied through deduction only. The process articu-
lated earlier encourages on-the-spot verication of answers to the current "why" question before proceeding
to the next, and should help avoid such issues.
Further Reading
ADB. 2007. Guidelines for Preparing a Design and Monitoring Framework. Manila. Available: www.adb.
org/documents/guidelines/guidelines-preparing-dmf/guidelines-preparing-dmf.pdf
――. 2008a. Output Accomplishment and the Design and Monitoring Framework. Manila. Available:
www.adb.org/documents/information/knowledge-solutions/output-accomplishment.pdf
――. 2008b. The Reframing Matrix. Manila. Available: www.adb.org/documents/information/knowl-
edge-solutions/the-reframing-matrix.pdf
――. 2009a. Monthly Progress Notes. Manila. Available: www.adb.org/documents/information/knowl-
edge-solutions/monthly-progress-notes.pdf
――. 2009b. Assessing the Effectiveness of Assistance in Capacity Development. Manila. Available:
http://www.adb.org/documents/information/knowledge-solutions/assessing-effectiveness-assistance-ca-
pacity-development.pdf
Jeff Bezos and Root Cause Analysis
[The author explains how while he worked for Amazon.com in 2004 Jeff Bezos did something that the author still
carries with him to this day. During a visit the Amazon.com Fulllment Centers, Jeff Bezos learned of a safety incident
during which an associate had damaged his nger. He walked to the whiteboard and began to use the Five Whys
technique.]
Why did the associate damage his thumb?
Because his thumb got caught in the conveyor.
Why did his thumb get caught in the conveyor?
Because he was chasing his bag, which was on a running conveyor.
Why did he chase his bag?
Because he had placed his bag on the conveyor, which had then started unexpectedly.
Why was his bag on the conveyor?
Because he was using the conveyor as a table.
And so, the root cause of the associate’s damaged thumb is that he simply needed a table. There wasn’t one around
and he had used the conveyor as a table. To eliminate further safety incidences, Amazon.com needs to provide tables
at the appropriate stations and update safety training. It must also look into preventative maintenance standard work.
Source: Adapted from Shmula. 2008. Available: www.shmula.com/
Knowledge
Solutions
Asian Development Bank
ADB, based in Manila, is dedicated to reducing poverty in the
Asia and Pacific region through inclusive economic growth,
environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration.
Established in 1966, it is owned by 67 members—48 from the
region. In 2007, it approved $10.1 billion of loans, $673 million of
grant projects, and technical assistance amounting to $243 million.
Knowledge Solutions are handy, quick reference guides to tools,
methods, and approaches that propel development forward and
enhance its effects. They are offered as resources to ADB staff. They
may also appeal to the development community and people having
interest in knowledge and learning.
The views expressed in this publication are those of the author
and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the
Asian Development Bank (ADB) or its Board of Governors or the
governments they represent. ADB encourages printing or copying
information exclusively for personal and noncommercial use with
proper acknowledgment of ADB. Users are restricted from reselling,
redistributing, or creating derivative works for commercial purposes
without the express, written consent of ADB.
Asian Development Bank
6 ADB Avenue, Mandaluyong City
1550 Metro Manila, Philippines
Tel +63 2 632 4444
Fax +63 2 636 2444
knowledge@adb.org
www.adb.org/knowledgesolutions
For further information
Contact Olivier Serrat, Head of the Knowledge Management Center, Regional and Sustainable Development Department,
Asian Development Bank (oserrat@adb.org).
... The technique of the five whys is the same as the Ishikawa technique of the most used in the area of quality [28] and its main objective is to find the root cause of a problem. This technique is also known as the technique of children who innocently, but for the purpose of connecting dots and building rational, will continually ask "why" about all things in their interaction with older people. ...
... Only after a clear understanding of the problem should the proposition of solutions begin. Furthermore, there are different ways to identify the possible causes of a problem [23,27,28]; however, they need to be validated with facts afterwards. ...
Article
Full-text available
Problem solving skills are increasingly important to be able to tackle the complex problems encountered in the business world. Nowadays is increasingly important to achieve sustainable development, focusing not only on economic profit but also on creating social value. It is widely agreed that the principles of scientific management can lead to more effective solutions for complex problems. Problems have to be looked at objectively, with methodology and intellectual integrity and modesty. Several techniques have been developed to help analyze the causes of the problem or formulate solutions. Although these business research techniques are important tools, they are presented as isolated measures. Pereira Problem Solving methodology presented provides guide to address business and management problems. It is an integrative and easy-to-use instrument that helps organizations adopt scientific management practices and will enhance the efficiency of the solutions encountered.
... Third, to identify the possible causes of ineffective on-street parking management, we conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders using the five whys analysis approach. Five whys analysis is a powerful technique for performing RCA for cause identification by exploring cause-and-effect relationships (Gurley et al., 2021;Mahto & Kumar, 2008;Serrat, 2017). Based on the institutional structure of on-street parking management, as gathered from official documents and the website, potential stakeholders were identified; the stakeholders, listed in Appendix B, comprised 15 representatives of seven government agencies. ...
Article
Bangkok, a sprawling metropolis and capital of Thailand, has long-struggled with chronic on-street parking mismanagement despite repeated government attempts at regulation. This paper examines the root causes of ineffective on-street parking management in the city, elicited using root cause analysis (RCA), documentary research, field surveys, and in-depth interviews as data sources. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with fifteen government officers, focusing on the mindsets, motivations and incentives of stakeholders, and tree diagrams were developed to visualize cause-and-effect relationships and identify root causes of mismanagement. Our analysis identified eight root causes of ineffective on-street parking management stemming from misalignment of government bodies, including a fragmented institutional framework, lack of interest and commitment from both national and local policymakers, the limited legislative authority of the local government, lack of on-street parking policy, lack of planning and review, ineffective law and regulation enforcement, lack of monitoring mechanisms, and low perceived seriousness of parking infringements. Based on these findings, several priority action steps are proposed to help policymakers in effectively managing on-street parking in Bangkok.
... It involves finding the cause of a problem by asking "why?" five times to find out why the problem started and where it started. The 5 WHY technique is a novel approach to determining the fundamental cause of a problem by analyzing cause-effect relationships [117]. The 5 WHY technique utilizes a questioning technique to figure out the cause-and-effect links of a certain loss or problem. ...
Article
Full-text available
Environmental protection, sustainable development, quality, and value have become the goals of societal development in the twenty-first century. As the core of environmental protection, the new energy sector has become a widespread trend. In this article, we will look at how well and how satisfied customers are with the energy market’s service. A literature review of energy sector quality and value issues was conducted. The survey was conducted in 2021 in Poland with over 2404 respondents by the CAWI survey. Additionally, it was given a qualitative analysis. In the next step, we applied selected quality management methods and tools. The results of the study clearly show that the respondents expect energy companies to become more involved in building customer–enterprise relationships. Research shows that employees of energy companies should be trained more often in the field of customer service, especially in terms of an individual approach to the customer, which has value for the customer. The authors propose ways to build an arrow diagram to increase customer satisfaction levels. A model of elements determining quality as well as value for clients in the energy market was built.
... The five whys technique was employed to identify the causal roots of the symptoms identified through the literature review and pattern matching. This technique is an iterative process that involves repeating multiple times to help identify the root cause of the problem and its solution [36][37][38]. This method has been employed in different fields; for example, Tsao et al. [39] applied five whys to develop local and global fixes for a system of precast walls and door frames. ...
Article
Full-text available
Public projects continually face multiple difficulties for their satisfactory completion. One of the most complex challenges is early contract termination (ECT), which delays social goods delivery and exhausts public resources. This study aimed to determine the root causes of the critical factors that lead to ECT in public building projects. We studied 20 kindergarten construction projects in Chile through a multi-case study. It addressed a pattern-matching analysis of symptoms associated with risks of design–build (DB) contracts and a five whys analysis to determine the root causes of the symptoms identified in the units of analysis. The results show that ECT projects’ most common symptoms are labor force shortage, materials shortage, and non-payment claims. In addition, the root-cause analysis exposed that the main causes of ECT’s symptoms were deficiencies in the bidding evaluation process, which led to an inadequate selection of the general contractor, lack of experience of the owner, and regulatory limitations of the legal framework for public projects. The construction projects faced ECT and cost and time overruns associated with poor risk management due to the owner’s and general contractor’s lack of experience in DB contracts.
... The Five Whys Technique helps to start at the result, reflect on what caused that, and ask the answer five times. It is a basic and often effective approach to problem-solving that promotes deep thinking by questioning and can be adapted quickly and applied to most problems [12]. The theory of change can be used for strategic planning or program to identify the current condition, the intended situation, and what needs to be done to move from one condition/situation to another condition/situation. ...
Article
Full-text available
This article discusses how to improve the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) of the chicken bowl printing machine. OEE is important to measure machine performance in the production process. OEE will affect the costs incurred during production activities, such as product defects, how effective the performance of machines is, and how much time is available for production. The failure-tags analysis was used to identify the category factors causing engine failure. The why-why analysis was used to identify the root cause of the problem, and the theory of change was used to explain what should be implemented by the company to improve the OEE value. In 2020, only December had a value above standard by 95%, based on the Seiichi Nakajima OEE has a good value if the value >85%. The OEE values From January to May were fell from 73% to 34% and then kept increasing to 73% in November. The increase of the OEE value can be achieved by implementing a communication schedule, monitoring and evaluating the performance of maintenance staff to achieve a fast maintenance machine process, and applying maintenance rules and guidelines.
... Fishbone diagram was created by Kaoru Ishikawa for the research field of management and it is known as a common tool that is used to indicate a cause-effect analysis for a specific event (Coccia, 2018). Similarly, five Whys is also a tool for root cause analysis that helps to explore the cause-effect relationships of an event and this tool is regarded as a simple tool that is related to the principle of systematic problem-solving by asking "why" questions JSTPM (Serrat, 2017). is used as a technique or a tool to answer and address the primary cause of the occurring problem. ...
Article
Purpose Industrial Revolution 4.0 is still evolving. The purpose of this paper is to assess the progress of Indonesia in achieving an initiative for Industry 4.0. As the largest country in Southeast Asia, Indonesia plays a critical role in implementing Industry 4.0. In addition, this study proposes an open innovation strategies for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in facing Industry 4.0, especially in the Indonesian setting. Open innovation is viewed as a long-term innovation model that relies on cross-border commerce between businesses and countries. Design/methodology/approach This study undertakes a comprehensive literature review to capture the necessary insights for establishing an early grasp of solution design. A total of 32 sample papers were qualified using a set of selection criteria designed to find the most relevant existing studies in the Industry 4.0 and Indonesia domains. The meta-details as significant discoveries were processed using a content analysis approach. In addition, the research deployed sentiment analysis from text mining to inter-operate and classify (positive, negative and neutral) in-text data using text analysis techniques to identify public sentiment toward Industry 4.0 in Indonesia. Findings The key finding is that there is a favorable relationship between digital ecosystem readiness and open innovation adoption for SMEs. While, knowledge management is a critical factor in guiding a country’s successful implementation of the open innovation paradigm. Furthermore, some of the major findings revealed that many initiatives for Industry 4.0 are carried out by the private sectors. In regards to the procedure, the role of government is the protection of market regulations. This could be due to preserving fair competition between corporations and SMEs. Local businesses and SMEs should be protected to ensure their survival. In addition, the major cause of the slow adoption of Industry 4.0 in Indonesia is the lack of digital equipment. This is because of the shortage of digital equipment that can create a digital divide between large and small businesses and between industries in the urban and rural areas. Research limitations/implications This study discussed some of the most essential issues of SMEs in adopting open innovation that is required for Industrial Revolution 4.0. It focuses on how digital ecosystem’s readiness influences open innovation adoption for SMEs in Indonesia. By understanding its current state of readiness, it contributes to the policymakers in deciding how and where to adopt open innovation and develop digital ecosystem and identify which ones might best meet their needs for any developing countries. Originality/value This paper is useful to academics, practitioners and policymakers in the fields of technology and public policy. The research provides some initial insights into Indonesia and any developing countries on Industry Revolution 4.0 and the needs for SMEs in adopting open innovation.
Article
Creativity helps organization to produce novel solutions to complex and sometimes enduring problems. By breaking traditional ways of looking at a given problem and facilitating the design of alternative approaches, creativity contributes to the creation of value-adding solutions within an organization. This is true for any type of problem, including the problem of specifying the requirements for a new software or system. A number of creativity methods, techniques and tools have been proposed as a way to be more creative during Requirements Engineering (RE). They are however often demanding in terms of time, human involvement and resources, thereby reducing their attractiveness for RE practitioners and their stakeholders. Our previous research has led to the proposition of a lightweight tool to support creativity in RE; the Creativity Triggers (CTs). CTs are cards to be used during requirements elicitation to foster creativity from stakeholders and help them uncover novel features of a system-to-be. This paper builds on – and extends – our early conceptualization of CTs to produce a more comprehensive and empirically grounded proposal. Our contribution is twofold; first, we conduct a large-scale and systematic exploration of the qualities underlying the CTs. The objective is to improve the completeness of the tool in order to produce a final set of CTs. Second, we conduct a validation of CTs in different contexts and with different viewpoints to evaluate its usefulness in supporting creativity during requirements elicitation. We end-up with a set of 22 CTs that provided evidence for supporting creativity during RE.
Article
On-site construction challenges and the efficient performance of off-site construction methods have led the building industry toward applying different industrial construction methods such as precast concrete construction. Despite the significant capabilities of industrial building construction, the wastes of the off-site production processes are still substantial. Lean techniques are implemented to reduce or eliminate production wastes. However, lean techniques must be selected based on each production system's characteristics to maximize its impact that could be implemented using root cause analysis (RCA). As a result, the current research investigates the impacts of the simultaneous application of the RCA technique and lean techniques on the total time, costs, and idle time of the precast concrete components (PCCs) production processes. To find wastes effectively, the 5 Whys technique is implemented as RCA. Based on the RCA outcomes, 5S and just-in-time (JIT) techniques are implemented as lean techniques (LT) to improve the production stage of PPCs. According to the results, the total time, cost, and idle time of the production processes showed 39%, 33%, and 90% reduction, respectively, which indicates a more significant improvement than using lean techniques individually.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.