‘5 Whys’

What it is

‘5 Whys’ is a questioning technique to get to the core of a problem, opportunity, or interaction.

Why it’s useful

Asking ‘why’ repeatedly helps us to iteratively get deeper insights into the issue, e.g. identifying underlying reasons for behaviour, attitudes or beliefs.

When to do it

‘5 Whys’ is a useful technique at any stage in the service design process - especially at the understand phase.  It can also be a helpful way to clarify what’s most important in any business conversation.  ‘5 Whys’ is particularly useful when you’re:

  • Determining what really matters from the customer or business perspective
  • Exploring why a customer or user does something
  • Analysing information.

How to do it

‘5 Whys’ doesn’t mean you always have to ask five questions.  Use as many or few questions as you need to get to the core of the matter.  Use the answer to your previous question to help you form the next question.


Statement: “Users don't follow the correct process”

  1. Why?  They don’t know what the process is.
  2. Why?  When we changed it we assumed people would pick it up.
  3. Why?  They've adapted to changes in the past.
  4. Why?  The changes had a clear communication plan around them.
  5. Why?  We knew we had to plan the communication as much as the process change.

Variations on ‘why’

Rather than simply repeating the word 'Why?', consider reframing the question. e.g. Why is that an issue? Why does that happen? Why does that matter? What do you think is the cause? What’s the consequence of that?