The 5 Why's Technique

One of the simplest techniques known to a BA can, in some cases, be the most effective. We call this technique, "The 5 Why's".

What Is It

The 5 Whys technique is a form of root cause analysis, which originated within Toyota, and is now a fundamental part of many methodologies including Kaizen and Six Sigma. The technique boils down to asking the question "Why?" 5 times in order to determine what the real issue is (I'm sure you remember The Simpsons episode? :P).

Just like a child who wants to immediately know why you gave the answer you did, we as a BA can ask the same question (5 times should suffice) until we understand the real cause of a problem, as opposed to simply a symptom. From here we can take steps in order to fix that problem.

How Do I Use It?

It sounds simple, and it is!

  1. It begins with a statement of the problem. Writing this down ensures everyone is on the same page, and has a full understanding of the issue at hand.

  2. Next, ask why this issue occurs.

  3. Does the answer to the Why? question look like a root cause? (Is there another answer to the Why?).

  4. If not, ask Why? again. If it does, you've found the underlying issue!

As mentioned, it usually takes 5 iterations of the above steps 2-4 to find the underlying cause. It may take less, or it may take slightly more depending on the complexity.

Example

Problem: I can't get all my work done to meet my deadline.

  1. Why (can't you complete your work in time)?
    Because my computer keeps freezing

  2. Why (does your computer keep freezing)?
    Because the specs are too low

  3. Why (are the specs too low)?
    Because IT won't give me a new laptop

  4. Why (can't you get a new laptop)?
    Because they don't have enough new laptops to hand out

  5. Why?
    Because new IT equipment is a low business priority

We could have stopped at any of the above points. But we would never have found the underlying issue. We could have given the (let's call him a BA) a new laptop, but that wouldn't fix the issue for everyone else who may be having the same issue. Once we know the root cause we can take steps to fix it.

Why Should I Use It?

Using the 5 Why's help us to identify the real issue, the underlying cause It stops us from just simply providing a "quick-fix" to the main issue. Fixing the real cause is usually a lot cheaper in the long-term.

Tips

  • Try not to fall for generic statements, or end-reasons that are out of our control, such as "not enough time" or "human error".
    • The underlying cause is usually a process issue.
  • Focus on the process, not the people. If a person is making a mistake, the process that allows them to make that mistake should be blamed, not the person (or team) themselves.
  • There may be more than one underlying problem, but try to stick full to one path before switching to another.
  • Be objective. Remove any pre-conceived ideas of the issue as this may alter your judgement.

Feel free to ask any questions on the above (as long as they are not "Why?"!) ;)