What is the Five Whys method?
The “5 Whys” is a Problem-Solving method that identifies Root Causes of Problems by asking five consecutive times:
- “Why this happened?”.
It Starts with the most obvious “Symptom” (or Issue) and Forces the analyst to wonder Why it happened.
- Once the Analyst has a first Explanation, he/she has to repeat this cycle 4 more times.
5 Whys method Flowchart
Let’s see it with one example:
Five Whys example
Imagine that one day, your front-right tire suddenly bursts.
As we all would do, you call your car assistance company, that comes exactly where you are and replace it with a new tire.
Few weeks later, again, this same tire (the new one) bursts again.
And you start thinking that this is not normal (or shouldn’t be).
Then, you decide to apply the 5 Why methodology:
1. Why this happened?
- Why your tire burst in the first place?
You bring your car to the car shop.
There, they tell you that your rims are not aligned and that is causing your tires to burst.
Many people would settle for this explanation but you then, ask yourself again:
2. Why this happened?
- Why weren’t they aligned?
Your car is only 2 years old so, it shouldn’t be usual.
Your car assistant tells you this can happen if case you park on irregular terrain frequently.
You do it, but just once a month. It shouldn’t be enough.
3. Why this happens?
- Why parking once a month on irregular terrain misalign your wheels?
You decide to investigate about it, and you find out that you have a loose master screw that is causing this problem.
4. But how is this possible?
- Why is this screw loose? Is it a car problem?
You ask different same-car owners and you find out that this is only happening to you, so you start to suspect that in your last car revision somebody caused this problem.
You then ask in your car shop about what they did in your last revision and they confirm that they “manipulated” that piece.
5. Then, how is it possible that they forgot a loose screw?
- Should you take your car to another shop? Why this happened?
In the workshop, they confess that the last revision of your car, was developed by an external worker since the main mechanic was sick.
They assure you they won’t hire that external worker again since he didn’t know what he was doing.
- Moreover, they will give your money back (what you had to pay for your tires and the alignment).
Imagine now, what would have happened if you had settled for the first explanation they gave you.
- You would have stopped parking on uneven terrains, but you would still have the problem.
We are not car-mechanic experts, so forgive us if we said something stupid.
We just wanted you to understand how the “five Whys” tool works.
Why is the 5 Whys method important?
By nature, we all tend to settle for the first explanation we have.
The 5 Whys method pushes you to see beyond and find the “root cause” of your problem.
But, can you always apply this method?
When can be used the 5 Whys method?
Whenever you need to find the root cause of a certain problem.
- You can use it to find “bugs” on your Website.
- Which Plugins may cause it and why?
- You can use it to solve Human resources problems.
- Which employee could do better and why?
- You can even use to improve your diet and find out why you are gaining weight!
Although it was originally designed for Industrial quality processes (where it is extremely useful) it can be used in practically all situations.
How should you develop a Five Whys analysis?
According to our experience, the simpler the better.
There are dozens of Flowcharts with crossed explanations, difficult algorithms…
We propose you to use the simplest approach possible.
It is better to use a simple yet useful approach instead of a difficult one that you would only use once.
What do you need for applying the 5 Whys method?
Some people recommend assembling a Team, but we don’t think that is necessary.
- If you develop this method at your Job you can do it without any problem.
You only need to feel like finding the Root Cause of your Problem.
Should you always find 5 Whys?
Sometimes, with just 3 “Whys” is enough.
- You should try to dig as deep as you can, but sometimes you get to “bedrock” with less than 5 Whys.
5 Whys Method Examples
Now, we’ll propose you two examples of different situations in which this method can be very useful.
YouTube Channel - 5 Whys Method Example
Let’s imagine you own a YouTube channel:
- You have been publishing new videos for a whole year on regular basis.
- Your videos have a higher than average quality (regarding image, sound, etc).
- All the people you’ve asked tell you that your videos are funny.
However, you just have half the audience of other similar channels.
1. Why do you have half the audience of your competitors?
Assuming you have approximately the same videos published; the obvious answer is this:
- YouTube is not showing your content as often as that of your competitors.
This statement is not as obvious as it may seem.
If your content is good, and you have “plenty” of it…
2. Why is YouTube not showing your content as often as that of your competitors?
If YouTube is not showing your content as much as you would like, must be because some of your metrics are not as good as you expected:
You then discover that:
- Your “Engagement” is not very high.
- Your “Audience retention” is limited.
- The “Average percentage viewed” is reduced.
- On the other hand, your “Click-Through rate” is elevated.
Some users devour your videos, but others just move on.
So far, you have concluded that:
- Your YouTube Title descriptions are better than average.
- Some of your users love your videos.
- Others don’t.
And this last fact is preventing your content from being better positioned.
3. Why some of your users don’t like your content?
You decide to investigate the average profile of your users:
- Where they come from.
- What they are interested about.
- Etc, etc.
After a deep research, you conclude that users of your same country are much more engaged than those from other countries.
4. Why the users from your same country are much more engaged?
You start to look at your YouTube comments in order to figure out what is going on.
You find 3 different kinds of comments:
- Stupid meaningless comments.
- Funny comments from people that loved your video.
- You suspect they are from your same country.
- Comments requesting for some explanations; they didn’t understand your video at all.
The people from your same country understood perfectly your content:
- Your Jokes.
- The references you made.
- The people you referred to.
- etc, etc.
While people from other countries, didn’t understood everything you said.
5. Why people from other countries don’t fully understand your videos?
So far, we have that:
- Your videos don’t have as good metrics as you thought and that is why YouTube is not showing your content as much as that of your competitors.
- Some of your users are very engaged while others are not.
- Those Engaged users are from your same country.
- They like your videos because it seems that they are the only ones that understand perfectly everything you say; your jokes, your references, etc…
And the reason some users don’t understand your videos is:
- You are publishing videos with local references for a global audience.
People from other countries don’t understand your jokes because what you think is very popular all over the world, is popular only in your country.
- That is why your publications don’t have as good metrics as they could.
Now, you’ll start introducing new and more international references in your videos.
We are not YouTube experts so please, forgive us if we said something wrong.
Since lots of our users are very interested in SEO, we’ll show a similar example, but focused on a Website:
Improving SEO - 5 Whys Method Example
Let’s imagine that you own a WordPress Site.
You have been writing interesting and high-quality content for a whole year.
- You have already published 60 interesting articles.
However, you barely have 1,000 pageviews per month. What is going on?
Let’s develop a “condensed” 5 Whys method:
1. Why you only have 1,000 pageviews per month?
Because your content isn’t Rankings very good.
2. Why is your content Ranking so poorly?
Because your metrics are terrible:
- Your CTR specially.
- You have a 0.3% CTR.
People do not Click on your content.
3. Why people don’t Click through your content?
You decide to look for some of your pages on Google and you find out that your Publications’ titles are not attractive at all.
While your competitors have nice Titles and Descriptions, your Posts have short boring titles.
4. Why do your Posts have boring Titles?
Because you didn’t know that you could edit them.
With this “5 Whys analysis” you found out that it is very important to edit your publications’ titles, so they are more attractive to your potential users.
Your content may be the best, but if it has a generic boring Title, nobody will Click through it.
* Believe or not, this is based on a true story.
The 5 Whys method is a simple iterative analysis that pushes you to find the root cause of your problems by asking yourself 5 consecutive times: Why this happens?
- Sometimes you’ll need less than 5 Whys, and other times 5 won’t be enough.
Although there are different approaches for developing a “5 Whys analysis”, the simpler the better.
Never underestimate this method: You have surely settled for the first explanation you’ve encountered several times without discovering the true root cause of your problem.