The Five Whys was developed in Japan and made popular by Toyota’s use of it in manufacturing. It is one of the times kindergarten behavior (why, why) is encouraged. Six Sigma folks have used the process as a quick root-cause or cause/effect analysis. We have used this process while coaching individuals to help them get to the heart of their reasons for maintaining certain behaviors. And we have used this process in groups to bring clarity to project plan goals.

How do you do The Five Whys?

In pairs or small groups take a concept or issue and ask why five times.

Here’s an example borrowed from

The Washington Monument was disintegrating.

  1. Why is it disintegrating? Use of harsh chemicals
  2. Why use harsh chemicals? To clean pigeon poop
  3. Why are there so many pigeons? They eat spiders and there are a lot of spiders at monument
  4. Why so many spiders? They eat gnats and lots of gnats at monument
  5. Why so many gnats? They are attracted to the light at dusk.

Proposed Solution: Turn on the lights at a later time.

You may arrive at a idea to test or you may find another area of discovery. Nevertheless the Five Whys is a low-tech, quick process that you can employ anytime.

When will you use the Five Whys?