The 5 Whys is a technique used to determine the root cause of a problem.

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When you begin your 5 Whys, move quickly from one question to the next to stay focused on the causes. Don’t brainstorm or create causes that don’t occur in your process. Avoid jumping to conclusions, and make sure your answers are realistic.

The "5" in 5 Whys is just a rule of thumb. In some cases, you may need to ask "why?" a few more times before you get to the root cause of a problem. Once you have reached an actionable level of detail, stop asking “why?”.

Each time we ask “why?” we try to get to a deeper level of detail in how the process is causing the problem. It may be tempting to blame people—after all, what they do is usually in the process—but they aren’t generally the root cause. Blaming people may shut down the discussion and block you from finding the root cause.

Also avoid “solutions in disguise” that often begin with “Lack of...” These are rarely the root cause, but even if they are, they’re not useful. For example:

  • Lack of budget

  • Lack of procedure

  • Lack of staffing

  • Lack of training

For instance, you may think there is not enough staffing. In reality, you may have enough staff, but the problem may simply not be a priority.

Occasionally, as you ask “why?” you may go past the boundaries of the organization. For example, you may ask, “Why don’t we have enough job applicants? Because we are near full employment.” Although this may be true, it’s not useful or actionable. Ask “why?” as many times as needed until you reach a level of detail that can be fixed to prevent or minimize the problem.


How do I use the 5 Whys?

The Observed Opportunities identified in the Process Walk are auto-populated so that you can apply the 5 Whys to each. You select an opportunity and begin asking the question, “why?” In the Decision column, choose from the drop-down arrow:

  • Continue if you do not have a root cause (yet),

  • Root Cause if you now have a root cause, or

  • Dead End if you can go no further

If you chose to Continue, ask "why?" to drill down further in search of the root cause. Enter your answer in the next line and then select from the drop-down arrow. Remember the suggestions on how to ask: no blaming people and no solutions in disguise (e.g., lack of _). Repeat asking "why?" until you reach a root cause or dead end.

If you choose Root Cause, a logic check sequence will show on the right. Read through it from top to bottom and confirm that it makes sense. If not, re-check your why questions and make sure they are right.

If you choose Dead End, it should be because you can no longer provide meaningful answers to the why question. This may be as far as you can take the analysis, but it might be an excellent issue to hand off to another project or area. Keep this in mind when you get to the Project Handoff.

When you have found all your root causes, you can proceed to the next tool.


Kure guides you through each step in creating your 5 Whys by asking simple questions and providing guidance along the way. Powered by our Process Optimization Path™ (artificial intelligence), Kure will help you and your teams collaborate to complete process improvement projects together.

Ready to use the 5 Whys and start improving?

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