The Five Whys Analysis

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While many methods exist to research problems and solutions, one more simple and effective technique includes the five whys analysis. This technique focuses on cause and effects relationships and quickly digs deep into the root cause of an issue.

The technique breaks down processes into a sequence of events and identifies relationships within the problem. The Five Whys analysis effectively addresses root issues with human interactions, day-to-day operations, or troubleshooting simple to moderately complex problems.

The Five Why Analysis investigates the root cause of a problem.

The process is simple:

  • Identify the problem.
  • Ask and answer “why?” 
  • Repeat this process at least five times until you can identify the root issue. 
  • Address and solve the main issue.

By asking why five or more times, the root issue begins to manifest itself after layers and layers of steps reveal themselves. Once the root issue identifies, people can now propose solutions to address the more significant problem directly.

Five Whys Origin

Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Motor Company, developed the five whys analysis primarily to locate the core failure of Toyota’s vehicles. The practice is still employed today, as engineers continue to seek root issues in manufacturing.

The Fishbone Diagram

One cause-and-effect tool that visualizes the five whys analysis is the fishbone diagram. The tool visually breaks down issues that might be causing a significant problem. In the tool, the situation develops in the fish’s “mouth.” Then contributing categories and topics branch from the fish’s spine, creating a proverbial fishbone.

The Fishbone Diagram organizes the Five Why Analysis in a visual manner.

Five Whys Origin in Practice

In practice, the five ways analysis can help identify more significant issues that impact more minor failures. For example, a lawnmower stopped working abruptly. By identifying the problem and generating five “why” questions,  one might be able to identify the root issue of the mower and ideate a solution.

Problem: “The lawnmower stopped working. 

  • Why? It started making a sputtering sound and then stopped working.
  • Why? The gas tank is running low.
  • Why? I didn’t put gas into it.
  • Why? I didn’t want to go into the house to get the gas canister.
  • Why? I didn’t want to go to the gas station to add more gas to the container.

A quick solution to this problem is to visit the nearby gas station to fill the tank void procrastination.

Educators should embrace the five Whys Analysis

The five why analysis can also elevate educators’ performances in America’s classrooms. By using the Five Whys Analysis, teachers can promote positive reflection and develop core empathy. For example, let’s say a student did not complete their homework. Many teachers would quickly punish the student and assign a zero grade for the missing work. Instead, teachers should use the Five Whys Analysis to investigate why that student didn’t complete the homework. 

Problem: Johnny didn’t complete his homework assignment.

  • Why? Johnny doesn’t see the value in the homework assigned by his teacher.
  • Why? Johnny doesn’t see how the homework is relevant or helpful for himself.
  • Why? Johnny didn’t have time to complete the assignment thoroughly.
  • Why? Johnny worked from 4:00-11:00 pm.
  • Why? Johnny’s dad passed away when he was eight. Most of his time goes to supporting his mother’s financial needs. The only job in town hires teenagers to work long hours into the night.

Learning that information should inform a teacher to reflect on their practices. I’d ask why a teacher should continue to punish students when the teacher’s strategies fail. I regularly use the Five Why Analysis to inform my practice, and the method allows me to think differently about my performance, develop deeper empathy for my students, and realize the complex issues children are faced with daily.

Image: Andrea Piacquadio

Five Why Analysis Case Studies

Teachers should also teach students how to use the five whys analysis to become efficient problem solvers. Researchers Saeed Moaveni, and Karen Chou, published a study in the Journal of STEM Education advocating using the Five Whys in classrooms. They introduced the Five Why Analysis to engineering students. Teachers no longer gave corrections to homework. Instead, they asked students to use the Five Whys Analysis to determine where they went wrong. 83% of students reported the method helped them learn more effectively, and 81% of students indicated the technique was helpful in homework resubmission.

Another application of the Five Why Analysis features research from European construction workers. Skanska Finland developed a Five Whys Analysis method to report and identify accidents during construction. Using this method, researchers identified the root issues that caused injury, increased training opportunities, reduced mistakes from occurring again, and increased preventive actions from further damage. 

Critical Responses

While many people love using the five whys analysis, many detractors disagree with the application. Many suggest the Five Whys Analysis does not go deep enough. Users might not have the experience to solve the problem once the root issue presents itself, and some argue that asking “why” is not simply enough. Instead, questions like How or What might be more relevant. 

Another downfall of the Five Whys Analysis is that the method can identify multiple causes for one problem. Many also argue method is often too simple and leaves more ambiguity of the root issue.

Regardless of what people say, I’m a Five Whys Analysis devotee, and I try to use it in all applications of life.

About the Author
About the Author

Drew Furtado is an Emmy Award winning filmmaker, and leader of a nationally recognized high school media arts communication department .

He develops guides and strategies for nonprofit and educational organizations to improve and grow their social media presence, website development, and communication practices that best engages audiences.

New Bedford, Massachusetts

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