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When and How to Use the Five Whys Technique

When and How to Use the Five Whys Technique

When and How to Use the Five Whys Technique

Definition: The Five Whys Technique is a method of problem solving, which is based upon asking WHY? five consecutive times, in an attempt to understand the root cause of an event.

A visual example of The Five Ways Technique:

Decision Making and Problem Solving : When and How to Use the Five Whys Technique

Using the Five Whys Technique causes people to look deeper than the immediate causes for an event and encourages finding the root causes.

A root cause could be the cause of many problems, which on the surface are different, but are manifestations of a single fault.

The Five Whys Technique is faulty, because it provides only a single train of thought which is not sufficient to give a full causal explanation, since all events have multiple causes.

Improved Five Whys Technique

Here at Corporate Coach Group, we have an improved version of the Five Whys Technique. Visually it looks like this:

Decision Making and Problem Solving : When and How to Use the Five Whys Technique

The Corporate Coach Group's Improved Five Whys

1. Universal Natural Law.

Everything and every event is governed by a set of Universal Natural Laws. Events may be explained by reference to these laws, ie the Titanic sank because of the Universal Laws that govern buoyancy, (Archimedes principles) which dictate that ships made of iron are eminently sinkable.

2. Material cause.

Material causes are those which reference the failure of the materials being used. (We don't use chocolate to make teapots!)

3. Formal cause.

Formal causes are those which reference design errors, as the cause of an event. (The Titanic sank partly because the watertight bulkheads were too shallow).

4. Efficient cause.

Efficient causes are those which reference the obvious trigger for the event under question. (The man died because he was shot in the heart by the murderer).

5. Final cause.

Final causes are those which reference human intentions as the cause of an event. (For example, the man was murdered because the thief wanted his money).

How to use the Improved Five Whys Technique

1. Write down the event and start with the most obvious explanation, which is the "efficient cause", which is the obvious trigger that caused the event. For the Twin Towers disaster, the obvious cause is the aeroplanes crashing into the Towers.

2. Then, if the event was caused by human action or neglect, then identify the "final causes". Write down those human decisions and goals, which contributed to the event and ask yourself, what aims were the participants attempting to actualise? For the Twin Towers, the causes would include the religiously motivated intentions of the hijackers.

3. Then look at "formal causes" which are the design errors or failures, that contributed to the event. Look for faulty designs and list them as potential causes. For the Twin Towers, the design of the Towers did not include any considerations for the eventuality of a fully-fuelled passenger jet crashing into it.

4. Then look for "material causes", which are the materials that were in use, and which may have contributed to the event. For the Twin Towers, the material causes may have included the "ties" that held the steel structure together, and which melted under the intense heat of the fire. Could other materials have been better suited to the task?

5. Universal Laws of Nature. There are universal laws of nature that govern everything, one of which is, "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction". The Americans have been at war with Muslim countries since the first Gulf war in 1991. Since every action, creates an equal and opposite reaction, then America's attack on Muslim countries, may be considered one of the causes of a Muslim attack on America.

Next time you have a problem, try using the Improved Five Whys Technique. You may be surprised what the five whys analysis will reveal to you.

About the Author: Chris Farmer


Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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Further Reading in Decision Making and Problem Solving

  • When and How to Use the Five Whys Technique
    Discovering the root cause of a problem is vital to finding a satisfactory solution. The 5 Whys Technique is a method of problem solving based on asking "Why?" five times. Corporate Coach Group have an improved version of the 5 Whys Technique.
    Read Article >
  • How To Solve Problems
    The ability to solve problems in business are an essential still. Whether you need to solve a problem for yourself or for your employer, these tips will help you to identify and work out a solution to your problem.
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  • Tips on How to be Innovative
    Your business needs to adapt and grow in today’s ever-changing economic climate. Being innovative is not just about inventing, it also means adapting your current business model and making changes to your working practices.
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  • The Single Most Important Thing
    Be the best by learning how to pick out the single most important thing, in any situation or conversation.
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  • The Walt Disney Model
    Walt Disney was a great problem solver. He approached problems from a variety of perspectives. We would all benefit from being able to find practical solutions to problems. Check out his model and see how you can use his methods to your advantage.
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