Workshop Exercises: Understand

Five Whys

Analyze and understand the root cause of a problem or issue

Illustration of Five Whys
Run a Five Whys play

Timing: Discovery

Origin: Sakichi Toyoda

Prep time
5 minutes

Run time
30 minutes

Group size

Why: Uncover the true root cause rather than symptoms by promotes critical thinking, reflection, and problem-solving

When: Use when encountering problems or issues needing thorough examination to identify its underlying cause

This workshop exercise is part of the Workshop Patterns printed card deck.

A collection of workshop exercises that will help you ditch dull meetings and facilitate with confidence. It will help you master the design process and have more productive time with your team. The card deck will be ready for purchase in the end of 2023 and is now undergoing rigorous testing.

Reserve your deck!

Instructions for running this play

  1. Prepare a problem statement before the meeting and discuss it first thing.
  2. Distribute sticky notes to each player, asking them to number five of them 1 through 5
  3. Ask the participants to review the problem statement and ask themselves WHY it’s a problem.
  4. Ask WHY five times, including the previous answer in the next question to narrow focus on the problem.
  5. Have each participant Playback their chain of questions to the group
  6. Rewrite the problem statement based on your findings
  7. Work with the group to build consensus on which of the five WHYs in the columns offer the most meaningful insight into the problem.
  8. Consider finishing off with a Who/What/When exercise or even a How Might We… to follow up.

Tips to perfect this play

Master and adapt the play to fit your context and needs.


Ask in different ways. What caused [problem]? What led to [problem]? What are the conditions under which [problem] occurred? What contributed to [problem]?


The Five, Six, Seven, Eight Whys. Keep asking “why” until the team agrees you’ve hit a meaningful level of root cause.

Tip: Five Hows

Instead of asking "Why?" for each response, ask "How?" to explore the factors and actions that contribute to the problem or issue.

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