Bye Bye to the Five Whys?!


Do you ever wonder why people are not doing what you expect? How do you figure out what went wrong and what constraints are getting in the way of everything working as it should? You may have heard that you need to ask the right question, or even about the Five Whys. But if you have used the Five Whys before, have you noticed that you are not confident in the results? There is a better solution to getting to root cause in a more reproducible way, to developing actions and implementing them.

Let’s review what are the Five Whys process and why it often doesn’t work. Asking why helps you dig further into the root cause. Each time you ask why, you only get part of the problem. For example, consider that your employee is supposed to run reports every Friday afternoon, but they always turn them in late or maybe even miss an entire week.

The process goes something like this.

Problem: Reports are late.


The employee was too busy.


There were meetings all morning and a full days’ work to complete in the afternoon.


The employee was too busy preparing for the meetings the day before to complete any other tasks.


The research assistant has recently left, and administrative tasks are falling on the employee.


The site is overworked and understaffed, and the employee is too busy to spend time to interview potential new employees.

Do you see how the problem suddenly shifts? Digging in to the true nature of the problem helps with identifying the root cause. Instead of retraining the employee on the importance of running reports, the focus is on prioritization and time management, and hopefully hiring new help.

BUT, while Five Whys is a frequently taught tool for getting to root cause, many people find it challenging to use in practice.

  • One simple criticism is that sometimes you might need more or less than five why questions to get to root cause.

  • Another significant criticism is that it is not reproducible – you may easily head down a number of different paths with your why questions. How do you know you’ve gone down the right one? In this example, you might have headed down a path that led to the root cause being “The employee is required to attend too many meetings that do not add value”.

There is a better solution to getting to root cause in a more reproducible way - to developing actions and implementing them. It is a solution that uses the available information about the problem rather than relying on educated guesses.

Coming soon, DIGR-ACT® is a solution for those looking to improve their critical thinking skills in relation to clinical trials and dig further into the root cause. It’s developed by industry experts and is a new and an exciting composite of well-tested approaches from other industries synthesized specifically for the clinical trial professional in an eLearning format.

View the demo and sign up to receive more information here, or by emailing

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- The Clinical Pathways Team

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