3 min read

5 Whys Root Cause Analysis Exercise (+Template)

5 Whys Root Cause Analysis Exercise (+Template)

Mistakes, challenges, and problems will always arise at work. However, what sets individuals, teams, departments, and organizations apart is how they overcome these situations. When issues occur, are they brushed off to continue to happen again or again? Or are they evaluated and examined deeply to understand why it happened and how to avoid it in the future? 

Taking the time to understand the deeper issue behind a particular situation can be the linchpin to success. That’s why employers are putting an emphasis on hiring and promoting employees who have problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. Monster found in their 2021 Future of Work Global Outlook report that these skills were the third most important skill and the number one skill gap in employees.

If you’re looking for an exercise to help yourself or a team with critical thinking and working through a problem, the 5 Whys is what you need. In this blog, we will explore what the 5 whys root cause analysis is, how to run this exercise, and a template to do so.

 

Table of Contents:

  1. What is the 5 Whys Root Cause Analysis?
  2. What are the Steps in the 5 Whys Root Cause Analysis?
  3. 5 Whys Template

 

What is the 5 Whys Root Cause Analysis?

The 5 Whys Root Cause Analysis is an exercise that aims to identify the underlying cause of a problem by continually asking “why” until the cause is pinpointed. It’s a simple yet powerful exercise for individual and team problem-solving and understanding the deeper issues behind a certain situation.

What is the 5 Whys Root Cause Analysis Niagara Institute

The purpose of the 5 Whys exercise is to go beyond the apparent or surface-level reason.  The goal is to find the root cause and underlying issues contributing to a problem. By understanding the true nature of the problem, organizations, teams, and individuals can implement effective solutions that prevent the problem from recurring in the future.

The 5 Whys Root Cause Analysis exercise was developed by the founder of Toyota, Sakichi Toyoda. This technique is closely related to the Toyota Production System and the larger philosophy of Lean manufacturing. While the origin of the 5 Whys can be attributed to and popularized by Toyota, since its creation, the concept of asking “why” multiple times to uncover the root cause of a problem has become a widely used problem-solving technique across industries.

 

Join the free 30-Day Leadership Challenge and become a better manager. >> 

 

What are the Steps in the 5 Whys Root Cause Analysis?

Whether you’re going through the exercise on your own or leading a team through it, the process and goal are the same - drill down to the root cause of the problem by asking “why.” While it is a simple exercise, it encourages deeper thinking and analysis that leads to resolving issues that otherwise would have been superficially “solved.”

How To Conduct The 5 Whys Exercise (1)



How to conduct The 5 Whys Exercise

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Ask “why” the problem occurred to identify the immediate cause
  3. Ask “why” again
  4. Reach the root cause by continuing to ask “why”
  5. Address the root cause by creating a plan of action

 

Step 1: Identify the problem
Clearly define the problem or issue that needs to be addressed. It should be specific and well-defined. A best practice is to write it down and keep it at the top of the page.

 

Step 2: Ask "why" the problem occurred to identify the immediate cause
Begin by asking why the problem occurred. This question helps to identify the immediate or surface-level cause and will be the most apparent reason contributing to the problem.

 

Step 3: Ask “why” again
From the answer obtained in step 2, continue asking "why" to dig deeper into the causes. With each additional “why” question, the goal is to uncover a more profound reason that contributed to the previous cause. Each subsequent "why" question should be based on the answer to the last question.

 

Step 4: Reach the root cause by continuing to ask “why”
Continue asking "why" until you reach a point where the answers are no longer helpful or practical. The number of times "why" is asked may vary depending on the complexity of the problem and the information available. Examine the answers obtained from each round of “why’ to find commonalities or patterns to uncover the actual root cause of the problem.

 

Step 5: Address the root cause by creating a plan of action 
Once the root cause of the problem is identified, an action plan can be created to address and resolve it. You’ll want to brainstorm and develop countermeasures that eliminate or mitigate the root cause to prevent the problem from happening in the future.

5 Whys Template

5 Whys Root Cause Analysis Template from Niagara InstituteTo make the process of running a 5 whys exercise that much easier, the team at the Niagara Institute created an editable template for you to use on your own or with your team. This template prompts critical thinking and helps individuals and groups move beyond the symptoms to address the real issues at hand. Through its systematic approach, the 5 Whys template enables users to develop targeted and effective solutions that address the core problems, ultimately fostering continuous improvement and preventing reoccurrence.

 

Conclusion: Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking Can Make a Big Impact

Problem-solving and critical thinking are coveted skills. Having employees with these competencies is essential to organizations because it enables individuals and teams to reflect, learn from mistakes, and find solutions to improve and overcome problems. While the 5 Whys exercise is a great tool to assist in problem-solving, the value of team training, where individuals develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills, can make a real difference to performance. 

Join the Free 30-Day Leadership Challenge

How to Lead a Six Thinking Hats Exercise (+Questions and Template)

7 min read

How to Lead a Six Thinking Hats Exercise (+Questions and Template)

Whether you’ve heard of the Six Thinking Hats before, consider this as your sign to give it a try for yourself at least once. Here’s why. Not only is...

Read More
How To Lead a Gibbs Reflective Cycle Exercise (+Template)

8 min read

How To Lead a Gibbs Reflective Cycle Exercise (+Template)

When was the last time you or your team stepped back and learned from an experience or situation at work? For many who are fighting to meet tight...

Read More
The Start-Stop-Continue Exercise: How To Conduct One (+Template)

8 min read

The Start-Stop-Continue Exercise: How To Conduct One (+Template)

In our search for improvement, we often find ourselves reflecting on what works, what doesn't, and what needs to change. This process of evaluation...

Read More