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Five Whys Technique

Table of Contents

8 hours ago

Five Whys Technique

Table of Contents

  • Root Cause and Opportunity Analysis
  • The 5 Whys Technique
  • 5 Whys Analysis example
  • Conclusion

The 5 Whys problem solving technique is used for conducting root cause analysis suggesting anyone trying to understand a problem needs to ask why it is occurring up to five times to thoroughly understand its causes.

Root Cause and Opportunity Analysis

One of the very early tasks the business analyst will conduct on a project is assessing the current state. Assessing the current state involves researching and analyzing various aspects of the existing organizational environment to understand a situation of concern or interest to the business.

The area of analysis may involve a portfolio, program, or project; or business unit within the organization; a particular product; or any number of other areas. Various factors can be analyzed, such as the organizational structure, current capabilities, culture, processes, policies, enterprise and business architectures, capacities such as human resources and capital, and external factors.

It is common for the information obtained as part of assessing the current state to be more detailed than the information analyzed as part of defining the problem or opportunity, since ongoing elicitation activities have continued to cultivate the information

Once a situation is discovered, documented, and agreed upon, it needs to be analyzed before being acted upon. After the problem to be solved or the opportunity to pursue has been agreed upon, the problem or opportunity can be broken down into either the root causes or opportunity contributors so that a viable and appropriate solution can be recommended.

Root cause analysis techniques used to determine the basic underlying reason for a variance, defect, or risk. When applied to business problems, root cause analysis can be used to discover the underlying causes of a problem so that solutions can be devised to reduce or eliminate them.  Several techniques can be used to analyze root causes and opportunities, including the following: Fishbone diagrams, interrelationship diagrams, process flows, and 5 whys technique.


The 5 Whys Technique

The objective of 5 Whys is to ask for the cause of a problem up to five times or five levels deep to truly understand it. A business analyst does not always need to literally ask “why” up to five times. Instead, the Five Whys are used to begin with a problem and ask why it occurs until the root cause becomes clearer.

Quite often, business people bring solutions to the project team, but it is essential to first clarify the business problem with a technique like 5 Whys before considering solutions. Other techniques may be needed to refine the root cause, but 5 Whys is a good starting point.

It is important to ask “why” using appropriate questions and to limit the actual use of the word “why,” because it can cause the interviewee to become defensive.

The 5 Whys is an iterative technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question "Why?". Each answer forms the basis of the next question.

An example of a problem is: The vehicle will not start.

  1. Why? – The battery is dead. (First why)
  2. Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (Second why)
  3. Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (Third why)
  4. Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (Fourth why)
  5. Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (Fifth why, a root cause)

5 Whys Analysis Example

Example—Consider an insurance company that is interested in reducing the processing times and costs for automobile and homeowner claims. Initially, the organization understands the solution may impact a number of stakeholders across the company.

After conducting the 5 Whys analysis for this situation, you might have the results shown below.




We would like to add the ability for policyholders to submit claims from their mobile phones. We figure it would speed up claims processing considerably.

Business Analysis

I’m new on this team. Can you help me to understand why this is a problem? [Why 1]


Well, the problem is that claims take too long to process. With a mobile application, we can encourage customers to file claims as soon as an accident or storm happens. Plus, there are other features of smart phones we can exploit, like using their cameras and video technology.

Business Analysis

What do you think is the major delay in processing claims? [Why 2]


Partly it’s the lag between the time of an incident and when the policyholder files a claim, which can add several days to a week to the process time. The delay also results from our corporate policy that we need to investigate every claim we think will exceed certain limits. That tends to be 80% of all claims.

Business Analysis

Can you tell me the reason behind the need to investigate so many claims personally? [Why 3]


We’re a pretty conservative company, and to avoid fraud, we like to personally view the damage.

Business Analysis

What other alternatives for speeding up claims have you tried in the past, and why didn’t they work? [Why 4]


Well, we tried skipping the investigation for all but the highest claim amounts, and our losses jumped way up. We also tried encouraging customers to call us on a dedicated line from their mobile phones. But for some reason they didn’t seem to have our number handy or who knows completely why, but we didn’t get enough calls to warrant continuing.

Business Analysis

What did you attribute the higher losses to? [Why 5]


We found out that many of the damages were not as bad as the claims indicated. I think we overpaid by around 20% if I remember correctly.


As a conclusion, 5 whys technique suggests that anyone trying to understand a problem needs to ask why it is occurring up to five times in order to thoroughly understand the problem’s causes. The technique does not advocate having a person literally ask the participant the question “Why?” five times; rather, it promotes ongoing questioning to engage the participant in deeper levels of discussion provoked by more targeted questioning.

The facilitator or interviewer discusses a problem and continues to explore why the situation is occurring until the root cause becomes clearer, typically uncovering the root cause after five rounds of questioning.

If what we explained in this article is part of your day-to-day job, or if you are interested in improving your knowledge in the business analysis field, we highly recommend you read about the PMI PBA certification exam through the link here. Also, you can have a look at the curriculum of our PMI PBA exam perpetration workshop through the link here.


  • The PMI guide to business analysis, first edition.
  • Business analysis for practitioners: A practice guide