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5 Whys: A Problem Solving Exercise

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A big part of the training we want to help with at Elevate Fitness & Performance happens off the training floor.

It is the Goals & Vision Training for athletes.  And this part is a key component to success!

Without having Goals & Vision, more importantly a WHY, how the hell do you know what you are training for?  What helps you get up day after day with the mentality of getting after it?

For most people there isn’t a WHY.  And for most people without a WHY training becomes a chore or a thing they do here and there when they can squeeze it in…

But we are here to help change that.  And one of the exercises I like to use is very simple and very straight to the point.  It is the 5 Whys!

What the 5 Whys?

5 Whys is an iterative interrogative technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem.[1] The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question “Why?” Each answer forms the basis of the next question. The “5” in the name derives from an anecdotal observation on the number of iterations needed to resolve the problem.

The technique was formally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and was used within the Toyota Motor Corporation during the evolution of its manufacturing methodologies. In other companies, it appears in other forms. Under Ricardo Semler, Semco practices “three whys” and broadens the practice to cover goal setting and decision making.[2]

Not all problems have a single root cause. If one wishes to uncover multiple root causes, the method must be repeated asking a different sequence of questions each time.

The method provides no hard and fast rules about what lines of questions to explore, or how long to continue the search for additional root causes. Thus, even when the method is closely followed, the outcome still depends upon the knowledge and persistence of the people involved.


The vehicle will not start. (the problem)

  1. Why? – The battery is dead. (First why)
  2. Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (Second why)
  3. Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (Third why)
  4. Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (Fourth why)
  5. Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (Fifth why, a root cause)

The questioning for this example could be taken further to a sixth, seventh, or higher level, but five iterations of asking why is generally sufficient to get to a root cause. The key is to encourage the trouble-shooter to avoid assumptions and logic traps and instead trace the chain of causality in direct increments from the effect through any layers of abstraction to a root cause that still has some connection to the original problem. Note that, in this example, the fifth why suggests a broken process or an alterable behaviour, which is indicative of reaching the root-cause level.

It is interesting to note that the last answer points to a process. This is one of the most important aspects in the 5 Why approach – the real root cause should point toward a process that is not working well or does not exist.[3] Untrained facilitators will often observe that answers seem to point towards classical answers such as not enough time, not enough investments, or not enough manpower. These answers may be true, but they are out of our control. Therefore, instead of asking the question why?, ask why did the process fail?

A key phrase to keep in mind in any 5 Why exercise is “people do not fail, processes do”.

Now we realize the example above was regarding building/fixing a car.  But the process stays the same for ourselves.


By using the 5 Whys method we can find our TRUE WHY.  That motivating factor that will help us crush our fitness & health goals.

The part that is even more interesting is that most people find out there WHY is completely different than what they originally expected.

So now what to do?  Well if you are an Elevate Fitness & Performance member set up your next goals meeting with one of our coaches.

Not an Elevate Fitness & Performance member?  Now is your chance to set up your 1-on-1 Fitness Consultation.