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The Japanese “5 Whys” Problem Solving Technique

by James Kirk

   Are you aware of the problem solving technique called the “5 Whys”? It’s a technique originally developed decades ago in Japanese manufacturing plants, and is now used the world over as an aid to get quickly to the root of a problem. Simply put, you continue to ask the question “Why” until a root cause is found. Here are a few examples of how to use the technique.


My computer will not get on the internet. – PROBLEM

Why? 1 – My browser displays a “Page cannot be found” error.

Why? 2 – My computer says that it is disconnected from the network.

Why? 3 – There is no “link” light on my computer’s network card even with the cable plugged in.

Why? 4 – The network switch my computer’s network cable is attached to seems to be off.

Why? 5 – The switch’s power cord has become disconnected. (OFTEN ROOT CAUSE)



I am uncertain about our server backup situation. – PROBLEM

WHY? 1 – The few tapes we do have almost never make it offsite.

WHY? 2 – Our backup situation requires unnecessary human interaction.

WHY? 3 – Because we have an antiquated tape backup system.

WHY? 4 – We do not have veteran network analysts serving as our
advocates in this area.

WHY? 5 – We are not using AVAREN as our IT department. (OFTEN ROOT CAUSE)


   The technique will generally only find one root cause for any problem. In situations where more than one root cause is to blame additional repetitions or even additional techniques can be necessary. Nonetheless, if you find yourself with a problem and don’t know how to begin troubleshooting, this easy to remember technique can often yield quick results.


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