The 5 Whys Root cause analysis + Excel template

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As a part of my constantly improvement process study, I started thinking more and more about 5 Whys analysis which is a part of root cause exploration. The method is quite simple to describe: You ask five times the same question: “Why?”. When I first said this to my colleague, she was like I was talking to a little child. She remembers that little children always ask this “silly and nagging” question repeatedly making the parents completely mad.

There are three key elements to effective use of the Five Whys technique: (i) accurate and complete statements of problems, (ii) complete honesty in answering the questions, (iii) the determination to get to the bottom of problems and resolve them.

I tried to discover some methodology how to ask “Why” in more adult way in order to get more sophisticated answers and better results of the whole analysis. Let’s take this website as an example and solve the basic problem (which can be applied to many other businesses afterwards). The problem description is simple: The profit from the website is too low.

To better understand the Five Whys I will create a Worksheet in Excel. This will help me with better structuring of the problems, causes and in the end finding a solution to the problem. For visualization of the process map I will use Bizagi Process Modeler.

5 Whys process map

5 Whys process map

Problem: profit from the website is too low

In the first step of the analysis, I asked myself why is the profit from the website that low? Normally I would invite more stakeholders and ask those questions within a team, but this is rather a tutorial how to use this 5 Whys methodology, so I will answer those questions myself.

After asking for the first time I identified two main reasons: The revenues are too low and the costs are too high. In other words we need to cut the costs or increase revenues in order to make profit higher. This is obvious for every business man.

1st Why

Why is profit from the website so low?

  1. The revenues are too low
  2. The costs are too high

Step two is asking why are cost that high and revenues low. We have found 3 answers immediately and could probably find more if we only performed the whole session within a team. Depending on time dedicated to the analysis, you can make the answer tree richer (I am sure you can find more answers to simple questions like that).

The 5 Whys Root cause analysis Excel template


We have created a 5 whys template and filled in with the sample data related to our project. You can download the 5 whys excel template and see our example in your MS Excel.

2nd Why

  1. Why are the revenues too low?
    1. Not enough visitors
    2. Not enough advertisers
  2. Why are the costs too high?
    1. Service providers charge too much
    2. We spend  too much money

We continue asking again and again Why:

3rd Why 

  1. Why are there few visitors?
    1. The content is not attractive
    2. There is not enough content
  2. Why we do not have enough advertisers?
    1. There are not enough suitable advertisers on the market
  3. Why do they charge too much?
    1. We negotiated bad prices
  4. Why do we spend too much money?
    1. Because we want to boost the growth of the website

After the 3rd why we are in the middle of the process and form the general answers we are slowly extracting more details and slowly approaching the root cause.

4th Why   

  1. Why is the content not attractive?
    1. There is nothing really new in the news
    2. The content is better at competitors page
  2. Why is there not enough content?
    1. No money to pay content builders
  3. Why is there not enough suitable advertisers?
    1. Some of the potential advertisers do not find the website attractive for contract proposal
  4. Why did we negotiate bad prices?
    1. We had not enough information about pricing
  5. Why do we want to boost the website growth?
    1. To have more visitors and revenue earlier

The 5th why shall us already give the Root cause which we will use for Recurrence prevention proposal.

5th Why

  1. Why is there nothing new?
    1. The freelancers do not write anything new or the content is not fresh
  2. Why is the content better at competitor’s page?
    1. They have larger budget and more experience in the industry
  3. Why is there no money to pay content builders?
    1. This is a startup with limited budget
  4. Why do they not find it attractive?
    1. The page rank is small, content not rich and the website is not famous with a lot of traffic
  5. Why we had not enough information about pricing?
    1. The market research was not done properly and was not extensive enough
  6. Why do we want to have more visitors earlier?
    1. To make profit earlier and make some stability to the project development

The root cause analysis column will contain all the root causes we identified (answers to the 5th Why), while the recurrence prevention column will contain our recommendations on how to prevent it from happening again.


Root cause analysis results together with measures to be taken in order to avoid recurrence of impediment.

Based on our answers to the 5th why we will recommend steps to prevent recurrence of the root causes. This can take some time to formulate correctly which measures shall be undertaken.

Additionally you can ask also for a 6th time, but this is already discouraging some participants of the session and you get good results already after the fifth question.

We are now to formulate the results and create a summary of the findings.

It is obvious that  we need to find freelancers who will write really new stories and get rid of bad ones. Get the experience by trying and try to get additional budget by contacting investors or offering cooperation to third parties. It is vital to increase page rank, which cannot be done immediately due to delay in Google algorithms. It is recommended to do the market research again, more properly with deeper investigation of advertising opportunities and build up knowledge in this area. Another recurrence prevention measure shall be postponing some goals and focus more on building stability, thinking in long term rather than reaching short term goals.

As the results of the analysis are now written down, it is easier to follow the recommendations. I was aware of most of the issues before, but this kind of analysis gave us a nice overview and action item list. This is the reason why 5 WHYs analysis could be beneficial even if you have an idea where the root of the impediment is.

(I originally published this article when I founded back in 2012)