I first heard of 5-Why’s over 20 years ago when I got my first job in Quality. I had no experience of any kind, I got the job because I worked with the Quality Manager’s wife in another department and she told him I was a good guy. True story…but that’s how things worked back then!

When I was first exposed to the 5-Why concept, it did not really make any sense to me; I could not understand how it actually could work, as it seemed like the only thing it revealed was the obvious. So, if it is obvious, why do I need it? That is a pretty good question from someone who did not know much at the time.

I dived into Quality and got all the certifications, went to all the classes and conferences, and helped my company build an industry leading program from the ground up. A recurring concept in the study and materials I was exposed to was 5-Why. I learned the “correct” way to do it. Now I understood it, but I still never thought it was a good way to find root causes.

I transferred to another division of the company to run their safety program. I did not know how to run a safety program – I did know all the rules, as I had been auditing them for years, but I really did not know how to run the program. But I did know quality, and those concepts helped me instill an improvement mindset in the leaders which we successfully applied to safety.

The first thing I did when I took the job was to look at the safety policies and procedures, and there it was; when you have an incident, “ask Why 5 times” to get your root cause! That was the extent of the guidance. So whatever random thought was your fifth Why would be the root cause on the report! The people using it had absolutely no idea how the concept worked or how to do it. And my review of old reports validated this. Since then I have realized this is a common theme with 5-Why’s; there is a very wide variation in the way it is used. I don’t believe it works particularly well even when used correctly, but it usually isn’t in my experience.

Since retiring from my career and coming to work with TapRooT®, I’ve had literally hundreds of conversations with colleagues, clients, and potential clients about 5-Why’s. I used to be somewhat soft when criticizing 5-Why’s and just try to help people understand why TapRooT® gets better results. Recently, I’ve started to take a more militant approach. Why? Because most of the people I talk to already know that 5-Why’s does not work well, but they still use it anyway (easier/cheaper/quicker)!

So it is time to take the gloves off; let’s not dance around this any longer. To quote Mark Paradies:
“5-Why’s is Root Cause Malpractice!”

To those that are still dug in and take offense, I do apologize! I can only share my experience.

For more information, here are some previous blog articles:

What’s Wrong With Cause-and-Effect, 5-Why’s, & Fault Trees

Comparing TapRooT® to Other Root Cause Tools

What’s Fundamentally Wrong with 5-Whys?