Focus – The 5 Whys

The Five Whys

The five whys are just those — a chain of questions used to dig below the outward symptoms of a user experience in order to uncover the motivations that are at its root cause.

Why is it used?

The five whys are a simple, easy way to establish links between root causes  and surface problems, and require very little preparation. This is useful for quickly gaining an understanding of complex issues, and in provoking those being questioned to go deeper when trying to explain common problems. The five whys can be used in a wide range of circumstances. One benefit of defining causality by stages for example is that it may include steps in a service process that the customer doesn’t see, which can be of great benefit for organisations trying to classify problems as either internal or external.  

When is it helpful? 

To identify root causes and focus any efforts around solution enhancement around addressing those. By addressing the root cause directly, all problems associated with it will be resolved.

How is it applied?

The 5 Whys are usually addressed to explore a specific problem in greater depth. The person or team answering the questions has to produce a convincing explanation for each stage of the causal pathway leading back from the original experience or problem. Limiting this pathway to five stages prevents the process from losing relevance as it veers too far from the original question, but still provides insights into the underlying processes which may be exerting an influence.

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