5 Whys

Skill level: Basic


The 5 Whys tool is a basic root cause analysis tool. By recursively asking and answering the question “why,” you will be able to determine the root cause of an issue, allowing you to develop a corrective action plan or direction for a detailed analysis that will address the systemic issue and mitigate the need for future intervention.


  • Easy to use
  • Provides a fairly accurate assessment of the systemic issue
  • Used as a starting point for more detailed analysis

How to Use

  • Step 1. Identify the key stakeholders who should be involved in the process.
  • Step 2. Determine the problem that you want to analyze (e.g., Why are sales down?). Clearly identify and document the problem or question.
  • Step 3. Identify appropriate responses to the question (e.g., People don’t like our products).
  • Step 4. Ask “why” you received the answer to the previous question (e.g., Why don’t people like our products?).
  • Step 5. Continue these steps until you reach what could be deemed the root cause. This will generally not require asking “why” more than five times.

Relevant Definitions

Not Applicable to this term


In a services company that supports a loyalty program, a problem may be that customers are not redeeming the existing rewards offerings they have earned.

A problem of this sort reduces revenues and supplier rebates, devalues the program, and negatively affects client satisfaction. Understanding what is happening, and as quickly as possible, is critical.

The diagram below captures how the 5 Whys tool can help determine why redemptions are down.5Whys

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