Whether analyzing customer complaints, process defects or safety findings, the use of 5 Whys for problem-solving has been in place for many years; if you are still using it for low risk issues, below are links to additional articles to help you be more effective in its use:

A Look at 3 Popular Quick Idea Based Root Cause Analysis Techniques: 5-Whys, Fishbone Diagrams and Brainstorming or

What, Why and then Fix… There is No Other Sequence for Root Cause Analysis.

This blog article, however, is to understand what many mean when asking why or how it is perceived when asked why during problem solving. I thought I would make it easy and define what why means using the Oxford Dictionary.  I asked myself why after I did that!




Expressing surprise or indignation: Why, that’s absurd!

Used to add emphasis to a response: You think so?  Why, yes.

Interrogative adverb

For what reason or purpose: Why did he do it?

[with negative] Used to make or agree to a suggestion: Why don’t I give you a lift?

Relative Adverb

(with reference to a reason) on account of which; for which: The reason why flu jabs need repeating every year is that the virus changes.

– The reason for which: Each has faced similar hardships, and perhaps that is why they are friends.


– A reason or explanation: The whys and wherefores of these procedures need to be explained to students.


– Old English hwī, hwȳ ‘by what cause’, instrumental case of hwæt ‘what’, of Germanic origin.

Interestingly enough, the origin appears to be more representative of problem solving than any of the new definitions that appeared in the online Oxford dictionary. The majority of the new definitions appear to miss the mark in problem-solving.

Take the Interrogative adverb, “Why did he do it?” This can easily be perceived as blame waiting for an excuse of why he did it. Once the problem solver gets the excuse, then the investigation is complete. Especially if you are interviewing the person involved in the problem.

Why as a noun, defined as a reason or explanation, is often inferred to mean this is why the person was supposed to follow the rules, but it does not allow or encourage the rule to be reevaluated if it does not work as intended or is just plain wrong.

The exclamation why is one we should all relate to, “I’ll keep asking why until you change your tune.”

As an effective problem solver, review the definitions of why listed above and ask yourself, “Am I using why in problem solving the way it was originated or not? Have I stopped at why when I should have gone further into true effective root causes?”

Finally ask yourself, “Have I made these mistakes asking why on moderate to high level problems?”

If the answer is “yes” to the questions above, stop asking why and join us in one of our upcoming TapRooT® root cause analysis courses.