Five Whys

The Five Whys is an easy question asking option that examines the cause-and-effect relationships that underly problems.

"When looking to solve a problem, it helps to begin at the end result, reflect on what caused that, and question the answer five times.

This elementary and often effective approach to problem solving promotes deep thinking through questioning, and can be adapted quickly and applied to most problems."

Source: Serrat (2009) p1


Advice for USING this option (tips and traps)

"The Five Whys technique has been criticized as too basic a tool to analyze root causes to the depth required to ensure that the causes are fixed. The reasons for this criticism include:

  • The tendency of investigators to stop at symptoms, and not proceed to lower-level root causes.
  • The inability of investigators to cast their minds beyond current information and knowledge.
  • Lack of facilitation and support to help investigators ask the right questions. 
  • The low repeat rate of results: different teams using the Five Whys technique have been known to come up with different causes for the same problem."

Source: Serrat (2009) p3




Serrat, O. (2009), The Five Whys Technique, Knowledge Solutions, Asia Development Bank. Retrieved from

Updated: 14th December 2015 - 12:50pm
This Option is useful for:
A special thanks to this page's contributors
Research Assistant, RMIT University.


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