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Identify the root cause of problems with a 5 whys template 9 min read
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Finding unexpected problems is a headache for any project manager — solving them is another story entirely. The 5 whys process aims to take that initial problem and expediently guide you to the root causes of a problem. Instead of relying on pure guesswork, the 5 whys technique keeps you and your team focused on the logical reasons something may have gone wrong so you can find a solution quicker.

In this guide, you’ll learn what the 5 whys process is and how to use a 5 whys template to identify the root causes of a problem. You’ll also discover how our flexible Work OS can help you document project issues and track their resolutions using a template.

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What is a 5 whys template?

First, let’s talk about what the 5 whys are, so you understand why a 5 whys template is necessary for problem-solving.

When your project experiences an unexpected problem, it can be a challenge to understand what went wrong, how you can aim to fix it, and how to prevent it from happening again. The 5 whys principle is a process you can use for any problem that uncovers the true root cause so you can develop an effective resolution.

Begin with the problem. What went wrong? Why did it go wrong? From here, you keep asking ‘why’ until you uncover the root cause — and once you’ve asked ‘why’ five times, you will have most likely figured out where the problem originated. We’ll go into more detail with examples later in this guide.

Problems can range from super simple to wildly complex, so it may take you fewer or greater than five ‘whys’ to drill down to the root cause.

A 5 whys template helps you identify each reason why a problem occurs, to get to the root cause while keeping you on track and thinking logically. It’s a helpful guideline in root cause analysis. Here’s more on why a template can be helpful.

Why use a 5 whys template?

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The 5 whys template identifies what specific parts of a process are problematic, instead of having you blindly guess the issue. This can prevent the same issues from happening again in the future.

A well-made template prompts you to elucidate a specific problem to find a fix for. For example, instead of stating the problem as ‘our internet connection is bad’, you could instead say ‘our ISP bottlenecks our download and upload speeds during working hours’.

When trying to get to the bottom of why a problem occurred, it’s often easy to become distracted by illogical reasoning as to how the problem was catalyzed. A template focuses you and your team on deciding why specific issues are present and prevents you from pursuing unrelated tangents. In short, you’ll stay on track and get to the root cause quicker. Examples of the 5 whys template in practice demonstrate just how effectively it can help you organize possible root causes and, thusly, determine the right course of action.

What are some examples of a 5 whys template?

You can use a 5 whys template for any problem that arises in your business. To give you a taste of how this could work, here are two examples of totally different problems.

The overbaked cupcakes

Problem statement: There were many unhappy customers on yesterday’s shift who requested their money back.

Why? The cupcakes customers bought are dry and slightly burned.

Why? The cakes spent too long in the oven.

Why? Bakers didn’t take them out when the alarm went off.

Why? Bakers were short-staffed and overworked as a result.

Why? They didn’t have a plan in place for days when there are fewer bakers in the bakery.

Root cause: There is no plan in place for managing workloads when bakers are out sick. 

Stolen customer data

Problem statement: Hackers stole sensitive customer information.

Why? There was a cyberattack.

Why? An employee clicked on a malicious link.

Why? They didn’t recognize it was a phishing email.

Why? Our cybersecurity training isn’t up to date.

Root cause: Up-to-date cybersecurity training isn’t given on a regular basis. 

On the surface, problems may seem to have more than one cause, but using the 5 whys can help narrow your focus onto the most logical root cause. Sticking to a template like this minimizes distracting, unhelpful suggestions about the problem’s origin.

With the importance of having a 5 whys template clear, here’s how Work OS can help guide your problem-solving.

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5 whys template on

Our Work OS brings your team and all departments together to work on problems in real time, all in one place, so nothing slips through the cracks. To effectively manage projects and come up with fixes to problems that arise, communication between team members is a must, and provides smart collaboration tools like commenting on projects, tagging team members, and setting reminders for specific tasks.

Our Root Cause Analysis (5 whys) Template allows your team to identify all problems, past and present, and assign a priority to them so you know what needs attention right away. To utilize this template, simply write down the specific problem and when it first arose. From here, you can add your 5 whys and determine the root cause.

It doesn’t stop there — you’re prompted to decide your team’s next steps to fix the problem, and our platform gives you the space to detail the exact process you need to implement to ensure you fix the problem for good. The flexible nature of our Work OS allows you to add, remove, and adjust the template to fit your business needs. We know that problem solving is just one piece of the puzzle, so here’s how the 5 whys template fits into project management on a larger scale.

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Related templates on

By combining templates, you can include problem-solving with the broader project management tasks such as analyzing processes and managing your team’s time. Here are more templates that you can apply to your problem solving strategy.

DMAIC analysis template

Root cause analysis is part of a much bigger strategy for improving processes. A common strategy is the DMAIC principle. DMAIC stands for define, measure, analyze, improve, and control. It involves various steps you can take to monitor past, current, and future performance, identify problems, and put those findings into action. Our DMAIC Analysis Template brings together all of this valuable data and actionable tasks and allows your team to view everything in one place so nothing is overlooked. Track tasks according to priority, deadlines, and ownership.

Fishbone diagram

The fishbone diagram, also known as the cause and effect diagram, is similar to the 5 whys and can be a great addition to your problem-solving mission. Start with a visual board you can share with your team so you can map out the problem, causes, and effects. Using our Canvas Template is a great collaborative option that links to your dashboard for easy reference.

Handy tip: type your problem/effect at the ‘mouth’ of the diagram, and use each ‘fishbone’ to designate possible root causes such as manufacturing, time management, staffing issues, and so on. You can flesh these areas out by asking ‘why’ and delving deeper into the causes.

Work calendar

To keep processes running smoothly, team members need to organize their days around the most relevant tasks. Our Work Calendar Template can help your team make the best use of their time. It syncs with Google Calendar and automatically sends due date reminders to their dashboard and email inbox. With flexible views and customizable columns and fields for project status, the Work Calendar Template is a simple way to help your team boost productivity and stay on-task.

Harnessing a powerful project management platform is a smart choice to help all team members collaborate on problem-solving. If you’re still wondering what role the 5 whys play in your solving issues, we’ve got you covered with answers to commonly asked questions.

Frequently asked questions

What are the 5 whys of root cause analysis?

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The 5 whys prompt you to discern a measurable problem, lead you to ask ‘why’ this happened, then repeat the ‘whys’ until you reach a logical root cause. Depending on the complexity of your problem, you may need to ask ‘why’ fewer or greater than five times, but 5 whys is a solid foundation for root cause analysis.

What is the purpose of using a 5 whys analysis?

Using 5 whys analysis eliminates guesswork and focuses on the logical reasons why a problem may have occurred. Consulting team members who have expertise in the problem area keeps you and your team focused on discovering the true root cause of a problem, so your solution is relevant and prevents the problem from reoccurring later on down the line.

Solve problems efficiently with 5 whys analysis and 

Root cause analysis is a solid foundation on which to begin looking at problems from a logical standpoint, instead of relying on guesswork. Our template shows you how to start with a measurable problem and helps you drill down until you find the root cause. From there, work collaboratively with your team using our intuitive Work OS and the 5 whys template to figure out the next steps and stop the same problems from happening again in the future.

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