Five Whys.

This short insight is from of our Methods series: A discussion of useful working practices and ideas for better ideation and execution.  We discuss what each method is, why they are useful, and how to utilize them.


An iterative interrogative technique that asks why five times in order to identify the root cause underlying a specific problem, discerning causes from symptoms.


To identify the root cause(s) of a problem.


Identify a particular issue highlighted by your user research to investigate further. Ask why the problem occurred and note down the answer. Repeat this process 4 times, developing on the previous answers in order to hone down on the root cause.

For example:

If the scenario was: There are mistakes in the transaction processing.

Why?—There's a bug in the program
Why?—Employees make mistake during data input
Why?—They have to use multiple programs/ faxed forms are unreadable
Why?—Low skill level/ overworked/ tired
*Why?—Suboptimal work allocation/ low pay/ high turnover

*root cause.

After identifying the root cause, frame or reframe your problem solving approach to address the root cause.

In the case of our example, it may be:

How might we incentivize our employees to ensure the expectation and the output match up.

Note: The method isn't restricted to 5 whys. In fact, you can and are encourage to ask why more or less than 5 times until you reach the root cause.

Further discussion.

The 'Five Whys' approach has striking resemblance to the practice of Thinking in First Principles. It is through breaking down complex ideas that we find the simple foundations upon which they were build—which in turn can help us find simple fixes to layered issues. Through the Five Whys methodology, we are able to take easily deployable steps to strengthen the core of an idea, service, product, or indeed any part of a bigger whole.