Why do testers need a root cause analysis

The 5 Whys: The Ultimate Root Cause Analysis Tool


Unanticipated problems can arise in any team or process. However, they are only symptoms of deeper problems. Solving problems quickly appears temptingly convenient, but it doesn't protect your work process from repeated mistakes. Therefore, your team needs to focus on finding the root cause and getting it right.

The 5 Whys Technique is one of the most effective root cause analysis tools in the lean management arsenal. Every team encounters obstacles in their daily work. However, the 5 whys can help you find the root cause of a problem and protect the process from recurring errors and failures.

Origin of the 5 Whys

The 5 Whys Method is part of the Toyota Production System. Developed by Sakichi Toyoda, a Japanese inventor and industrialist, technology has become an integral part of the Lean philosophy.

“The basis of Toyota's scientific approach is to ask five times why a problem is occurring ... This is how we learn the nature of the problem and how to solve it.” Taiichi Ohno

One of the key factors in successfully implementing the technique is making an informed decision. The decision-making process should be based on an understanding of what is actually happening in the work environment.

In other words, the root cause analysis process should involve people with practical experience. Logically, these can give you the most valuable information on any problem that arises in their area of ​​expertise.

The 5 Whys Analysis in Action

When you use the 5 Whys Technique, you want to get to the heart of the problem and then fix it. Often times, the 5 Whys even provide quite unexpected root causes of a problem.

Often times, problems that are considered technical errors turn out to be human and process problems.

Hence, if you want to avoid repeated mistakes, you need to find the root cause and eliminate it.

Here is an example of using the 5 Whys.

Problem - We didn't send the newsletter on time for the latest software updates.

  1. Why didn't we send the newsletter on time? Updates were only implemented on the key date.
  2. Why were the updates not implemented on time? Because the developers were still working on the new functions.
  3. Why were the developers still working on the new functions? One of the new developers did not know the process.
  4. Why wasn't the new developer familiar with the procedures? It wasn't incorporated properly.
  5. Why wasn't it incorporated properly? Because the CTO believes that new hires don't need thorough training and they should learn while on the job.

The cause of the initial problem now turns out to be something completely different from what most would have expected.

It is also obvious that the problem is not a technical one, but a process one. This is typical because we often focus on the product part of the problem and neglect the human factor.

Hence, the purpose of the 5 Whys Analysis is to examine a particular problem in detail until the real cause is found.

Remember that 5 is just a number. Ask “why” as often as necessary until you get to the heart of the problem, then take appropriate action.

This is how you get started with the 5 whys

The 5 Whys Method can help you achieve continuous improvement at every level of your business. Here are some basic steps you need to follow.

Put a team together

Try to put together a team of people from different departments. All parties involved must be familiar with the process that is being investigated.

By forming a cross-functional team, you get unique perspectives.

This will help you gather enough information to make an informed decision. Note that this is not an individual task and must be performed by the team.

Define the problem

Discuss the problem with the team and formulate the problem. This will help you define the scope of the problem you are going to investigate.

This is important because investigating a large problem can become a time-consuming exercise with unclear boundaries. Try to delineate the investigation area as clearly as possible in order to find an effective solution in the end.

Ask "why"

Assign one person to lead the entire process. This team leader will ask the questions and try to keep the team on track. Answers should be based on facts and real data rather than opinions.

The facilitator should ask "why" as often as necessary until the team can identify the source of the initial problem.

Tip 1. Don't ask why too often. If you overdo it, you will end up with too many inappropriate suggestions and complaints; that's not the point. Focus on the root cause.

Tip 2. Sometimes there is more than one cause. In these cases, the 5 Whys Analysis will look more like a matrix with different branches. This can even help you identify and eliminate organizational problems that have a permanent negative impact on overall performance.

Take action

After the team has identified the cause (s), it's time to take corrective action. All members should be included in the conversation to find and implement the best solution that will protect your process from recurring problems.

When the decision is made, one of the team members should be responsible for applying the correct measures and overseeing the entire process.

After a certain time, the team has to meet again and check whether their measures have actually had a positive effect. If not, the process should be repeated.

In the end, the case should be documented and shared across the company. Sharing this information gives an insightful overview of the various problems a team might face and how those problems can be resolved.

In summary

The 5 Whys Technique is a simple and effective problem solving tool. Your main goal is to find the exact cause of a problem by repeatedly asking “why”.

  • The 5 Whys method will help your team focus on the root cause of a problem.
  • She encourages everyone on the team to share ideas for continuous improvement rather than blaming others.
  • It gives your team the assurance that any problem can be eliminated and the process saved from repeated mistakes.