How to Use the 5 Whys to Find the Source of Any Issue

Do you take a long time to resolve professional or company issues? It might be time to learn how to use the 5 Whys to help simplify the process.

Perhaps you believe that in order to solve problems faster, you need to know 1000 strategies. The truth is that no single technique will address all of your difficulties. Despite this, you can still address the majority of your difficulties effectively.

How? By employing Sakichi Toyoda’s 5 Whys strategy. This technique was developed by Toyoda for the Toyota production system, but it may be applied to almost any problem[1]. So, instead of memorizing thousands of tactics, prepare to work smarter!

Related: 10 Great Actions to Keep Yourself in Any Situation

What Is the 5 Whys Method?

You must ask 5 questions when using the 5 Whys technique.

Isn’t it simple? When you’re dealing with a problem, consider what factors may have led to the current situation. Then repeat the process five times more, or until you find the root cause.

How do you know this method is effective? Toyota, for example, has used this strategy to improve its assembly line. Consider what it can do to assist you in solving frequent problems[2]!

The 5 Whys approach isn’t difficult, but it does take some getting accustomed to. When it comes to solving difficulties, if you’re like most people, you’re quick to look for solutions. Instead, whenever you have an issue, start by asking one inquiry.

It could be for something as insignificant as getting caught in traffic. Your first question in this situation would be why you didn’t avoid traffic.

For each of your difficulties, start with a single question and keep adding additional ones until you’ve reached a total of five questions.

You’ll eventually figure out when to ask the 5 Whys and figure out what’s causing most of your difficulties. You don’t have to work alone all of the time, though. When working on unfamiliar themes, collaborate with your team to come up with solutions.

If you’re having problems debugging a problematic marketing campaign for your company, for example, engage with your marketing team to come up with a solution.

You’ll wear several hats as a business owner, but you won’t be able to pinpoint the source of most of your problems.

How to Ask the 5 Whys Efficiently

Before you start asking the 5 Whys, you need to prepare to get the best results. Here’s the flow process for solving a real-world problem:

1. Get the Right Resources

You have no idea what you’re missing out on. So, before you solve a problem, acquire information from books and online resources. You’ll find yourself investigating topics you’re not familiar with more frequently.

If you don’t plan ahead of time, you’ll be stuck with an ineffectual root cause.

You can also encircle yourself with people who are experts in specific fields. In this manner, you and your group may collaborate to determine the best root cause of an issue.

Here, your goal is to feel at ease with the questions you’re dealing with. If you don’t know the answer to a question, you’ll almost certainly wind up with a bad root cause.

Related: Hard Skills That Will Increase Your Job Opportunities

2. Understand the Problem

It’s critical to understand the nature of the problem before attempting to address it. This will help you avoid looking for a root cause that isn’t relevant. 

You’ll prevent confusion while dealing with teams if you describe the problem first. When working in groups, for example, it’s common to presume that everyone is working on the same problem.

However, this isn’t always the case, and teams can end up focusing on two different challenges. 

3. Ask Your First 5 Questions

Ask your first question when you’ve spent enough time preparing. Rather than delivering hasty replies, think about which ones will be the most useful. Because each question is dependent on the one before it, provide thoughtful responses. 

The general rule is to keep asking why five times until you find a possible root cause. Typically, 5 questions or less are sufficient to solve the majority of problems but don’t limit yourself to 5 questions if more are truly required. 

Rather, keep asking questions until you can no longer do so.

Related: Ways to Overcome a Mental Block

4. Find Your Root Cause

The fundamental purpose of the 5 Whys framework is to identify the root cause of the problem you’re having.
You should come up with a response that explains when/why the issue occurs.

It’s also useful for dealing with high-level concerns so you can track your progress later. You’ll fix problems faster by tackling high-level issues before addressing the fundamental cause. 

An Example of the 5 Whys

Learning about the 5 Whys framework is great, but having real-world examples is better. Here’s an example you can use as a template for when you’re solving real-world problems:

Problem: Employers haven’t called me back for an interview for the past 3 months

  • Question 1: Why is my resume not getting noticed by employers?
    Because it’s too generic and not showing any special skills for the roles you’re applying to.
  • Question 2: Why is my resume too generic?
    Because I want it to appeal to many professions.
  • Question 3: Why do I want to apply to many professions?
    Because I want to increase my chances of getting hired.
  • Question4: Why would applying to several professions increase my odds at getting hired?
    Because I wouldn’t limit myself to available job openings at one specific profession.
  • Question 5: Why would I limit myself to job openings available?
    Because there is a high demand for my profession.

In this scenario, you’d stop at question 5 because you’ve found a potential root cause.

Since there’s a lot of competition for your industry, your resume needs to stand out. Who do you think an employer will hire, a jack of all trades or an expert in their profession?

Whenever you’re working with a problem, take time to brainstorm the best questions. That’s because it’ll impact the quality of the root cause you’ll end up with.

When Do the 5 Whys Not Work?

As you’ve seen, the 5 Whys isn’t complicated and can be used for many kinds of problems, but it takes a lot of effort to execute correctly.

When done right, it can help you find the culprit to most of your common problems. The problem is that this technique isn’t suited for every situation.

Unreplicable Results

You won’t be able to get the same results twice. Consider this: you’re crafting your own questions and responding to them in your own way.

For the most part, no one else would be able to duplicate your results. This means that even two teams operating in the same setting will produce two different outcomes.

Related: Things to Keep in Mind When Life Throws You a Curve

Limited by the Knowledge Available

When dealing with an unknown problem, as previously stated, obtain as much information as possible. The issue is that you will not always have the best resources at your disposal.

As a result, you’ll be forced to focus on the quality of your responses. 

Try a different problem-solving strategy if you’re ever faced with an unfamiliar topic.

Focusing on a Single Root Cause

The basic purpose of the 5 Whys method is to identify a single root cause. However, not all problems have a single answer. A marketing effort, for example, can have a best, good, and worst-case scenario.

The 5 Whys aren’t a horrible method to use because of these drawbacks. Instead, they teach you how to make better use of this strategy.

When it comes to refining processes and fixing minor problems, the 5 Whys method excels, but when it comes to dealing with more complicated issues, it falls short. As a result, you’ll need to be aware of different options.

For example, a company’s low customer response rate may be due to several factors. In this case, you’d choose a technique that’s better suited to solve complex problems. Determine which problems you face the most to know which techniques will help you the most.

Related: How to Stay Motivated in Life When You’re Overwhelmed

The Bottom Line

Consider overcoming problems that most people give up on. People would assume you knew 1000 ways to fix an issue just by looking at you. The truth is that not much has changed when you first began to deal with difficulties.

However, you’re now following a tried-and-true system that has made your life easier.
You’re a problem-solving juggernaut.

You’re mistaken if you don’t believe this can be your reality. You’ve got what it takes to solve your difficulties, but you’ll need to put in some practice time. Begin by posing one inquiry to yourself today as you encounter a challenge.

Then repeat the process until you’re asking multiple questions for each of your issues. You won’t be able to perfect the 5 Whys analysis overnight, but with enough practice, it will feel natural.


  1. Harvard Business Review: The Unimportance of Practically Everything

2. Harvard Business Review: The Five Whys for Start-Ups

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