5 Why’s

Authour: Ana Matic
Edited by Christine Keene


As a problem arises, it is easy to focus on the symptoms exhibited rather than on the root causes that created those symptoms, thereby missing the opportunity to solve for the correct problem.

In addition, situational team dynamics can drive to rushed solutions or place blame without taking the time to look more deeply at root cause.


The “5 Why’s” interview tool creates a process opportunity to delve deeper into the root causes and can illuminate the causal elements that created the problem, thereby allowing for problem solution. In addition, the interview can be a valuable tool when used in team settings, as it can be executed in a timely fashion while allowing for actual dialogue to occur.

Used When

Most commonly, this method is used early in the research process, as it can provide insights into underlying issues.

Use For

This tool can be used in any situation in which an individual or team are attempting to determine the potential root cause of a problem, concern or process.


1) Domain – Observe a problem, concern or issue. Using this, create a problem statement.

2) Session

  • Utilizing the problem statement, ask ‘Why’ or ‘Why is that?’ (Why #1)
  • Answer the question above, and again ask, “Why’ is the answer occurring?”
  • Repeat for Whys #3, #4 and #5, as well as any more that are needed.
  • Repeat the whole process as many times as necessary to determine potential 
root causes (especially if the root cause is something you may not control).

3) Record – Make sure to document the answers presented and transcribe them.

4) Analyze – Through the information gathered, identify themes and patterns that emerge. This information can lead to the research question development.

• Observe a Problem – I am unhappy at work.

• Create a Problem Statement – I don’t like my job

• Ask the remaining 5 Why’s:

Why? #1, Why? #2 and Why? #3
I don’t enjoy the work
– I don’t get to choose what I work on – I haven’t gotten a promotion

Why? #4 – I haven’t created enough value for my employer

Why? #5 – I don’t have the skill sets that people ahead of me have

Possible Solution – Interview people who have my ideal job and ask what skills they have, and how they got the job.


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