5 Whys Analysis Example: Identify Root Causes of Problems

5 Whys Analysis example

Have you ever faced a problem and wondered why it occurred in the first place? Understanding the root causes of a problem is crucial to finding effective solutions. That’s why you need to understand the best problem-solving tool 5 whys analysis with example.

The 5 whys analysis is a simple yet effective technique that helps you uncover the underlying causes of the problem by asking ‘WHY’ multiple times. By understanding the causes of the problem you can develop a solution that addresses the problem at its source.

In this article, I will discuss the 5 whys analysis with an example in detail and step by step process of how this powerful tool can be used to solve any problem. I will also discuss its benefits & common pitfalls along with best practices.

At the end of this article, you will be ready to apply this tool at your workplace. So get ready to unlock the powerful problem-solving tool 5 whys analysis with a practical example.


What is 5-Whys Analysis?

Let’s say you are driving a car on the road and suddenly your car starts making a strange noise. In your mind, you are asking why that noise is coming and you are not able to figure it out so you started asking the ‘why’ in your mind continuously.

This is nothing but an example of a 5 whys analysis. Many times, you face such situations in your daily life and naturally, you use this tool. The 5 whys analysis technique is like a detective that helps you get to the root cause of a problem by asking ‘why’ multiple times.

5 whys analysis technique was actually developed by the famous Japanese industrialist Sakichi Toyoda, who was the founder of Toyota Industries and the father of the Toyota Production System

This simple but powerful approach of asking ‘why’ multiple times helped Toyota uncover the deeper causes of problems and implement effective solutions. This leads to significant improvements in quality and efficiency.

The primary goal of the 5 Whys analysis is to identify the root cause of the problem. It helps you go beyond the surface-level symptoms and uncover the underlying issues that causing the problem.

For example, imagine your smartphone suddenly stops charging. You could assume the charger is faulty and replace it. But what if the new charger doesn’t work either? By asking ‘why’ multiple times you can dig deeper and discover the true cause.

5 whys analysis

Let’s break down this simple 5 Whys analysis example:

Problem – Your smartphone is not charging.

1st Why – Why is my smartphone not charging? The battery indicator shows no signs of charging.

Answer: The charging cable is disconnected.

2nd Why – Why is the charging cable disconnected?

Answer: The charger has become loose.

3rd Why – Why has the cable becomes loose?

Answer: The charging port is damaged.

4th Why – Why is the charging port damaged?

Answer: It got wet when I accidentally spilled water on my phone.

5th Why – Why did the water damage the charging port?

Answer: The charging port cover was missing, because of which water enters inside.

By going through this questioning process, the underlying cause we got is the missing charging port cover. Now instead of simply replacing the charging cable every time it gets loose, we can focus on solving the root problem by addressing the missing cover issue.

With this simple 5 whys analysis example, you got that by repeatedly asking ‘why’ and delving deeper into each answer, you can get close to the core issue so that you can fix problems more effectively and prevent them from occurring.

The principles of the 5 Whys analysis are straightforward but powerful. You must know it to use this tool effectively:

  1. It encourages a curious and open mindset. It’s all about asking questions and seeking understanding rather than making assumptions or jumping to conclusions.
  2. It promotes a systematic approach to problem-solving. By following a structured process of asking ‘why’ multiple times, you can uncover the cause-and-effect relationships that contribute to the problem.
  3. It focuses on actionable solutions. Once you identify the root cause of the problem, you can develop targeted and effective countermeasures to address it.

5 whys analysis is easy to implement than other problem-solving tools because it doesn’t require complex statistical tools or extensive training to apply. This makes it accessible to anyone, regardless of their expertise or background.

It encourages a holistic view of problem-solving. It recognizes that most problems have multiple causes, and helps to explore the interconnection between different factors and address the underlying problems rather than just treating the symptoms in isolation.

So whether it’s troubleshooting your car, repairing your charger, identifying production bottlenecks in the factory, or improving business processes, the 5 Why analysis is a powerful tool that empowers you to be a problem-solving wizard.


5 Whys Analysis Example

Now you understood the concept of the 5 why analysis technique. It’s time to understand the step-by-step procedure to conduct a 5 whys analysis with the help of one practical example.

1. Gather a cross-functional team:

Gather a team of people who are familiar with the problem, and have expertise in the area or you can people who are knowledgeable about the process that is to be examined. 

It is essential to have diverse perspectives to get a comprehensive understanding of the issue or problem. The team consists of employees, supervisors, or anyone relevant to the problem.


2. Identify the problem:

You need to first identify the problem that you want to solve. You can apply this tool to any problematic situation like customer complaints, process failures, quality issues, etc. While selecting a problem consider the 3 simple criteria.

  • The problem is recurring or has a significant impact on the process or outcome.
  • The problem is within your control and can be addressed by your team.
  • The problem is specific and well-defined, rather than vague or broad.

Then define the problem statement which is essential as it sets the direction for the analysis. A clear problem statement helps focus your efforts and ensures everyone involved understands the issue at hand.

While discussing the example of the 5 whys analysis later in this article, you will understand the concept of the problem statement. Now consider these 4 guidelines for defining the effective problem statement.

  • Be specific: Clearly define the problem and avoid vague or general terms.
  • Focus on facts: Base the statement on observable data or evidence rather than assumptions.
  • Use manageable criteria: Whenever possible, define the problem in terms of measurable outcomes or performance indicators.
  • State the impact: Highlight the consequences or impact the problem has on the process, product, or customer.


3. Ask “Why?” 5 Times:

Start the analysis of the problem by asking first WHY for the problem and encourage your team members to start with the first WHY. Then ask 5 why analysis experts to lead the team in asking a sequence of why questions.

Make sure that answer to each question of WHY should be based on actual facts and data, and avoid any kind of assumptions or opinions. Remember that it is not mandatory that you should ask WHY only 5 times, maybe you need to ask WHY more than 5 times so go for it.

It is possible that you will get the root cause of the problem after asking WHY more than 7 to 8 times, or less than 5 times. The important thing is you need to figure out the root cause and stop this process of asking WHY when you stop getting practical answers.


4. Take corrective actions:

Once your team identified the root causes of the problem, you need to shift your focus on creating correcting actions and take countermeasures to prevent the problem from recurring.

Develop a list of corrective actions to address the problem. These actions should be focused on eliminating or minimizing the root cause, rather than just treating the symptoms. It’s crucial to come up with practical and feasible solutions.


5. Monitor and evalute:

After implementing corrective actions, you need to monitor and evaluate the results. This allows you to see if the problem has been resolved or if further adjustments are needed. It’s an iterative process, and you should be open to refining your solutions based on feedback and data.

In the end, record the 5 whys analysis example process in a document and share it throughout the organization so that everyone can learn from this practical case study (Do this every time you implement a 5 whys analysis at your workplace).


5 whys analysis example:

let’s apply the 5 whys analysis to this manufacturing industry example and get a better understanding of this tool.

5 whys analysis example


Imagine you work in a Xia manufacturing company that produces electronic gadgets. As a supervisor, you have noticed an increase in the number of defective products during the assembly process. This problem causes delays, customer complaints, and increased costs.


Start asking 5 times why:

In this 5 whys analysis example, after the definition of the problem statement, the next thing is to start asking why until you get the root cause of the problem.

1. Why are we having an increase in defective products during assembly?

Ans – Because the products are not being properly soldered.

2. Why the products are not being properly soldered?

Ans – Because the soldering equipment is not calibrated correctly.

3. Why is the soldering equipment not calibrated correctly?

Ans – Because the calibration process is not being performed regularly.

4. Why is the calibration process not being performed regularly?

Ans – Because responsibility for calibration is not clearly assigned to any individual or department.

5. Why is the responsibility for calibration not clearly assigned?

Ans – Because the is a lack of standard procedure and communication between departments.


Identification of root cause and their impact:

From the above 5 whys analysis example, you can identify the root cause of the problem as the lack of standardized procedure and communication between departments. This led to the neglect of regular calibration, resulting in improperly soldered products.

The impact of this root cause is evident in the form of increased defects, delays, customer complaints, and higher costs. By addressing the root cause you can eliminate the underlying issue and its negative consequences.


Recommendations for implementing corrective actions:

For this 5 whys analysis example, here are some of the recommendations for implementing corrective actions:

  • Establish clear ownership: Assign a specific individual or department responsible for the calibration process and its regular execution to ensure accountability.
  • Standardize procedure: Develop standardized procedures for calibration and clearly communicate them across departments to eliminate confusion and ensure consistency.
  • Implement a communication system: Set up regular communication channels between departments involved in the manufacturing process. This will facilitate the sharing of information, including calibration schedules and updates.
  • Training and awareness: Conduct training sessions to educate employees about the importance of calibration and its impact on product quality. This will create awareness and emphasize the significance of adhering to the procedure.


Monitor the corrective actions:

Monitor the effectiveness of the corrective actions taken and continuously review and improve the calibration process. This will ensure long-term sustainability and prevent similar issues from happening in the future and promotes continuous improvement.

By implementing these recommendations and monitoring the corrective actions you can improve the soldering process, reduce defects and enhance customer satisfaction, and achieve better results in your process. I hope with this 5 whys analysis example you got better clarity of this tool.


Benefits of 5 Whys Analysis

  • With the above example of the 5 whys analysis, you saw that this tool allows you to go beyond the surface symptoms and get to the heart of the problem. By asking why multiple times you reveal the underlying factors contributing to the issue.
  • Once you identify the root cause, you can implement effective countermeasures to address it. This helps you prevent the problem from happening again in the future.
  • This technique encourages teamwork and collaboration. By involving different stakeholders and perspectives, you gain a deeper understanding of the problem. That leads to shared knowledge, improved communication, and faster problem-solving.
  • By targeting the root cause you avoid wasting time and resources on unnecessary fixes. Instead of applying band-aid solutions, you invest your efforts in addressing the fundamental problem, This not only saves time but also saves money in the long term.


Common pitfalls and challenges

Let’s talk about some of the challenges and common pitfalls of using the 5 whys analysis technique. You might have understood these challenges from the 5 whys analysis example I have discussed above, if not then let’s see here.

  • It is crucial to avoid stopping at surface-level answers. Sometimes, people may provide quick and easy responses without truly understanding the underlying causes. Encourage deeper thinking and keep probing until you reach the real root cause.
  • Remember, 5 whys analysis is not about assigning blame or pointing fingers at people. It’s about understanding the factors that contribute to a problem. Create a blame-free environment where everyone feels safe to contribute and share their insights.
  • Be aware of assumptions and biases that can cloud your judgment. Stay open-minded and challenge your own thinking. This way you can avoid jumping to conclusions based on preconceived notions and ensure an objective analysis.


Best Practices to Conduct 5 Whys Analysis

Here are some of the best practices that can help you while conducting a 5 whys analysis at your workplace.

  • Bring together a group of people from different backgrounds and perspectives. Each person will bring their unique knowledge and experience to the table, which will help in generating a wider range of insights and ideas.
  • Start by clearly defining the problem you want to solve. Be very specific and concise. Ask WHY at least 5 times to dig deeper, keep asking so that you will reach the point where the answer reveals a process or system failure.
  • Throughout the analysis, maintain a curious and open mindset. Don’t jump to conclusions or settle for superficial answers. Explore different possibilities and perspectives to uncover the real underlying cause.
  • Using visual aids like flowcharts or diagrams can help map out the why questions and their answers. It allows everyone to see the progress of the analysis and identify patterns or connections more easily.
  • Once you have identified the root cause, brainstorm solutions and develop an action plan to address the problem. Remember, the goal is to implement changes that prevent the issue from recurring in the future.
  • Keep an eye on the implemented solutions and measure their effectiveness. Check whether they are solving the problem or not. if not then go back to 5 whys analysis and reassess. Also, focus on documenting the analysis for future use.

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With the 5 whys analysis example, you understood that this is not just a simple questioning technique, rather it’s a mindset the way of thinking that allows the organizations to uncover the root causes of the problem and make lasting improvements.

Throughout the article, I discussed the 5 whys analysis in detail with an example, its advantages and best practices along with common pitfalls. This tool can be applicable to any sector or industry from manufacturing to healthcare, from customer service to software development.

It empowers teams to challenge assumptions and question the status quo and seek out the true reasons behind the problem. It fosters open dialogue, collaboration, and learning from mistakes, ultimately encouraging a culture of continuous improvement.

So, if you found this article useful then please share it with your network and subscribe to get more such articles every week.


3 thoughts on “5 Whys Analysis Example: Identify Root Causes of Problems”

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