What is it & Why Do It?

The Five Whys is a technique to allow teams to drill down to the root causes of a problem. By asking ‘Why’ 5 times it is said to expose the cause and effect relationships of an issue. It was famously pioneered by Sakichi Toyoda and was used within the Toyota manufacturing process as it developed its methodologies. The Five Whys practice helps with goal setting and decision making.

While the rules for this is are quite loose, it is mainly based around prior/existing knowledge. Take the time to explore these issues and persist asking ‘Why?’. By facing difficult challenges it allows your team to solve problems head on and move forward with a renewed sense of purpose. Sometimes asking uncomfortable questions is tough, but once tackled opens up a culture of mutual respect and self improvement.

Who’s Involved & What’s The Setup?

Moving through the Five Whys can be done alone but it is much more productive in a small group. The team can offer multiple viewpoints for the problems being tackled giving a more holistic approach. It also means the team feels more involved in problem solving. This creates a deeper, more connected company culture.

You should allow around 15-20 minutes to run through each sequence of questions. After their creation make sure it’s widely available to your team members. It shows your extended team the extent to which you recognise problems and are proactively understanding, challenging and providing solutions to move forward. Understanding the reasoning behind decisions keeps a strong bond between team members.

Step-by-step Guide

  • First the team must set out the problem statement. Identify the issue and write this at the top of the column. Try to keep this to the point and easily understood by everyone.

  • Break down the cause and effect of the problem one by one starting at a very basic level. This will help expose the granular nature of the problem. Try not to jump ahead or make assumptions in this process as every step counts.

  • Work your way down the steps discussing with the team each time you ask ‘Why?’ to the previous statement and then coming to the next conclusive statement.
  • Repeat this process 5 times to get to the potential root cause.

  • Refine these points so they are easily summarised and understood by everyone.

  • Once the root cause is identified, discuss how you are able to tackle this problem. Brainstorm ideas and then narrow this down to actionable steps.
  • Assign this action to an individual to move the solution forward.

  • Repeat the process when necessary to see how the problems have changed.

  • Continually share these findings and solutions with the team to show a proactive stance on moving forward together as a cohesive unit.


  • The Five Why’s method helps teams identify the cause and effect to problems you are facing and allows your team to solve these in an actionable way.

  • It allows you to explore multiple root causes of the same problem and help with goal setting and decision making. It positively moves your team forward with self improvement.

  • There are no hard and fast rules to The Five Whys, adapt to how your team operates.

Download the Five Whys template