“Why” is the how of getting to the root cause of a problem – a five whys example

What is the Five Whys?

Ever heard of the Five Whys questioning technique? This is one of many business analysis techniques but it’s one of my personal favourites when it comes to understanding a problem. That’s because it’s so simple.

Asking “why” is a simple and effective way to solving problems that can be used by any business analyst to improve a business process or write better requirements.

However, it’s so easy to forget this simple questioning approach when we’re given a task. There’s a risk to take the information we’re given – a business requirement or a half-formed solution – and build a solution based on untested information.

And this untested information may result in rebuilding a system or re-engineering a process later on. It can get expensive!

Asking why at least five times is an approach to getting to the bottom of a problem. It does this by pinpointing the underlying root causes of a problem and uncovering important details that will inform the best approach going forward.

Essentially, the Five Whys technique helps the business analyst achieve great results and avoid undesirable ones.

An Example of the Five Whys in Action

Here’s an example of how it works.

Statement:    We need a system that will manage and deliver information in a timely manner.

Why?    Because information is disorganised, incomplete or out of date.

Why?    Because there are old and varied methods of managing data, i.e., no versioning, data and files are stored on personal drives.

Why?    Because rules and guidelines for organising content are not defined and enforced.

Why?    Because there’s no intuitive means for enforcing policy.

Why?    Because there’s no supporting technology to validate processes for managing content.

The experts say to use this business analysis technique during initiation phases of a project. I say that you should use it any time you see the relevance and practice a lot.

The Five Whys method is undeniably one of the most important techniques that a business analyst can have in their toolkit – and it’s the most natural thing to do.

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