5 Whys – Root Cause Analysis (RCA)

5 Whys – Root Cause Analysis (RCA)

5 Whys – Root Cause Analysis (RCA)

The 5 Whys technique is an interrogative method of getting to the root cause of undesirable effects or nonconformities by asking why 5 times. It was developed by Sakichi Toyoda, Japanese who believed that by the time you get to the 5th why the problem and the solution become crystal clear.

You can ask more than five whys if the solution has not been reached yet, but five is the recommended minimum. Ask until you get to a dead-end, that will be your root cause otherwise, you will settle for a partial conclusion. This will mean that the problem is more than likely to occur in the future.

It is important to obtain and document information or objective evidence collected at each stage of the process.

Make questions more specific to obtain meaningful data.

Examples of scenarios to further explain the use of 5 whys and why in some cases the whys might surpass 5.

Scenario one

Nonconformity: There was no evidence to show that there was a re-evaluation of external providers according to the revised Act. The sampled case was for the cleaning company in the organization.

  1. Why is there no evidence of the re-evaluation of the cleaning company under the Public Procurement Act (20xx)?

Response: Evaluation was done only that it was not done on time, therefore, the report is not ready

  • Why was the evaluation done late?

Response: There was an overlook on the Act.

  • Why was there an overlook?

Response: Lack of sensitization on the amendments of the new act.

  • Why is there a lack of sensitization?

Response: The department was aware that the Act had been amended, and has already requested to be trained on the same. Evidence of Training Needs Assessment provided.

Why hasn’t the sensitization been done?

Response: It has been slotted for next week. The amendment in the Act was communicated two weeks ago.

Scenario Two:

A nonconformity: Corrective Action Reports (CARs) were not filled during by the time of the next audit.

Instead of simply asking ‘why?’ Ask:-

  1.  ‘Why were the CAR forms not filled?’

 Response: The Management Representative who was in at the time of the audit left the organization without filling the forms.

  • Why was the Management representative allowed to leave the organization without filling the forms?’

Response: There is no procedure for handing over when an employee is leaving the organization

  • Why isn’t there a procedure for handling over?

Response: It was omitted during the documentation phase.

  • Why was the procedure omitted when the other procedures were being developed?

Response: Lack of proper guidance from the consultants brought on board to help the organization to develop procedures.

  • Why was there no proper guidance from the consultants?

Response: The consultants were lacking competence in the field.

  • Why did you engage consultants who are not competent?

Response: Lack of due diligence from the procuring department.

  • Why was due diligence not done?

Response: The procuring officer had a lot of work on his desk.

  • Why was there too much work on the officer’s desk?

Response: The department is understaffed.

  • Why is the department understaffed?

Response: Lack of resources to employ more workers

So, our root cause for not filling the CAR forms, in this case, is the lack of resources to employ more staff in the procuring department. It was until all those whys were asked that we were able to know where the problem is. Remember, if the responses were different then the root cause that would be arrived at would also be different.

For example, another reason for not filling the CAR forms would be a neglect from the person who was supposed to fill the forms if the procedure is there or it could be a case of lack of proper induction for the new employee.

The root cause analysis needs to be conducted by the process owner as that way, you arrive at the root cause easily based on the real-time experiences as opposed to when you are guessing on what the real problem could be. Try to be as honest as you possibly can because once the root cause is established, the problem is not likely to occur. 

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