The 5 Whys root cause analysis method is like the ultimate detective game for problem solvers! Imagine a group of eager investigators armed with the power of “Why?” ready to dive deep into the heart of any issue. With each “Why?” question, we peel back the layers of complexity and get closer to the golden nugget of truth as we unveil the root cause. 

So, let’s gather around and ask “Why?” five times to unlock the mysteries of our challenges, and let the adventure begin!

Try Wrike for free

Understanding the 5 Whys technique

The 5 Whys method is a powerful and straightforward approach to root cause analysis that has been used in various industries worldwide. It focuses on asking why a problem happened and asking four more “whys” until you find the main cause. According to the method’s philosophy, the root cause of the problem becomes apparent after asking “Why?” five times.

The origin of the 5 Whys method

Developed in the 1930s, the 5 Whys method was first used in the Toyota Motor Corporation’s manufacturing process. It was used to identify the underlying cause of mechanical issues that were affecting its production. 

To find the main cause of a problem and avoid similar issues later, the team asked “Why?” multiple times. This process helped them discover and fix problems effectively.

Since then, the 5 Whys method has been adopted by organizations across various sectors and industries, including healthcare, finance, and technology. It has proven to be an effective tool for improving processes and identifying underlying issues that may have gone unnoticed otherwise.

Image of boxes with one reading "the power of why" on the front

The purpose of the 5 Whys technique

The 5 Whys technique serves two primary purposes. First, it reveals the root cause of the problem, which helps organizations eliminate the cause and implement solutions that will prevent future occurrences. 

Second, the method encourages problem solving by bringing together cross-functional teams to identify solutions as well as problems. By involving people from different departments, organizations can gain a more comprehensive understanding of the issue and develop more effective solutions.

How the 5 Whys method improves problem solving skills

The 5 Whys method improves problem solving by helping teams think critically and systematically as they break down complex problems into manageable components and identify the underlying reasons for a problem. 

The strategy also allows teams to understand the relationship between different factors contributing to the problem. They can address the underlying issue rather than just treating the symptoms.

The 5 Whys root cause analysis template: A step-by-step guide

To implement the 5 Whys method effectively, it is essential to follow a structured process. Here is a step-by-step guide:

Step 1: Define the problem

Define the problem clearly, as this will set the stage for the rest of the process. Identify the issue you need to solve, what it relates to, and which stakeholders it affects. This will help you focus on the questions that you will ask later on.

If you are working in a manufacturing plant, the problem could be a machine that keeps breaking down, causing delays in production. The stakeholders affected could be the production team, the maintenance team, and the clients who are waiting for the products.

Step 2: Ask “Why?” until you identify the root cause

Ask yourself why the problem occurred. Answer it, then ask it again for each answer to the previous question. You want to build up the underlying reasons leading to the original problem and essentially repeat this process until the root cause is identified. A typical example of a 5 Whys sequence is:

  1. Why did the machine break down? Because it overheated and the lubricant overheated.
  2. Why was the lubricant insufficient? Because it wasn’t adequately lubricated.
  3. Why did the machine not receive enough lubrication? Because the lubrication system was not calibrated correctly.
  4. Why was the system not corrected? Because maintenance technicians did not follow the maintenance manual correctly.
  5. Why did technicians not follow the manual? Because they were not correctly trained.

As you can see, the 5 Whys method helps you dig deeper into the problem and identify the underlying causes. In this example, the root cause is insufficient or ineffective training for maintenance technicians.

Step 3: Analyze the root cause

Analyze why the cause occurred, how it impacts the problem, and the scope of the problem. Also, consider how to resolve the underlying root cause, whether it is feasible, and any potential constraints.

If the machine breaks down because technicians weren’t trained properly, figure out why the training wasn’t good enough. Is it because the training materials are outdated or not comprehensive enough? Or is it because the trainers are not skilled enough to complete the training effectively? Once you have identified the reasons, you can develop a plan to address the root cause.

Step 4: Implement corrective actions

Based on the analysis of the underlying root cause, develop practical and impactful solutions that will eliminate the cause of the original problem. You should also reflect on how to prevent future occurrences of the same issue.

If the maintenance technicians’ inadequate training caused the machine to break, you should develop a training program. This program should include current materials and be conducted by experienced trainers.

Try Wrike for free

Real-world examples of the 5 Whys problem solving technique

Here are three real-world examples of how the 5 Whys technique can be used to solve problems:

Example 1: Manufacturing defects

A manufacturing plant found out that a large portion of its products had imperfections. Using the 5 Whys method, it was discovered that the cause of the defects was due to a defective product assembly machine component.

However, the investigation did not stop there. The team continued to ask “Why?” until they uncovered that the component had been improperly installed by a new employee who had not received proper training.

In response, the team implemented a comprehensive training program for all new employees. This helped to prevent similar issues from occurring in the future. The team then found other areas where training could be improved to prevent other types of defects.

Example 2: Customer complaints

A regional airline company experienced a rise in customer complaints about its meal services. The airline found that the complaints were because staff and caterers didn’t communicate well. Because the team continued to ask “Why?”, they were able to get to the root of the problem: a lack of standard operating procedures for meal service.

As a result, the team developed and implemented new procedures for meal service, including clear communication protocols between staff and caterers. Additionally, the team identified other areas where communication breakdowns could occur and implemented procedures to prevent them.

Example 3: Project delays

A project was delayed, causing frustration among stakeholders. The 5 Whys method showed that the cause of the delays was understaffing. The team continued to ask “Why?” until they uncovered that the root cause of the understaffing was due to a lack of clear project timelines and resource allocation.

So, the team created and implemented a new project management process that included clear timelines and resource allocation plans. The team also identified other areas where resource allocation could be improved and implemented changes to prevent future delays.

Tips for effective 5 Whys implementation

To successfully implement the 5 Whys method in your organization, consider the following tips: 

Encourage open communication

Use open communication and transparency during analysis to allow team members to freely share their thoughts without fear. Doing so will help identify the root cause of the problem and develop effective solutions.

Avoid blame and focus on solutions

Avoid blaming people or departments for the problem and instead focus on developing solutions that will resolve the issue. Blame only hinders effective problem solving and strains relationships in the workplace.

Validate the root cause with data

Use data to support your findings and validate root cause analysis results. Data helps make informed decisions, eliminate reliance on opinions, and create precise solutions for the issue.

How Wrike helps with the 5 Whys problem solving process

Wrike, a versatile project management and collaboration platform, can play a valuable role in facilitating your 5 Whys root cause analysis practice. Our software helps teams investigate problems by asking “Why?” multiple times, thanks to its strong task and workflow management features.

Wrike allows users to create and assign tasks for each “why” question, ensuring accountability and collaboration among team members. By sharing documents and collaborating in real time, you can gather and analyze insights from different viewpoints.

Wrike’s reporting and visualization features further aid in identifying patterns and trends across different “why” iterations. This makes it easier to pinpoint the root cause of an issue and develop effective solutions. By streamlining the 5 Whys analysis within a user-friendly interface, Wrike enhances problem solving and decision making processes for teams seeking to address and prevent recurring issues.

Screenshot of the Wrike platform and how it can assist in implementing the 5 whys template


The 5 Whys method is a powerful tool for root cause analysis and problem solving. By understanding the technique, using the 5 Whys template, and looking at real-world examples, organizations can identify underlying issues and create impactful solutions. Follow the steps and tips outlined in this article to successfully implement the 5 Whys method into your organization and achieve optimal results.

Alternatively, you can unleash the potential of the 5 Whys technique by building a template with Wrike’s adaptable work management platform. Start your free trial today and excel in root cause analysis and problem solving across your organization.

Try Wrike for free

Note: This article was created with the assistance of an AI engine. It has been reviewed and revised by our team of experts to ensure accuracy and quality.

Power the Modern, Agile Enterprise

Crush your goals and keep moving forward with Wrike's work management platform.

Please enter your email
Server error. We're really sorry. Wait a few minutes and try again.
Power the Modern, Agile Enterprise