January 19, 2019 | Mark Paradies

What’s Fundamentally Wrong with 5-Whys?

Yes, people confront me. They argue that  5-Whys is a “good enough” root cause analysis tool. They say it’s simple to ask why five times and that people in the field can “understand it.” Well the time has come to put that argument to bed. Five Whys is inadequate. It has fundamental flaws that make it inadequate. Flaws that don’t exist in TapRooT®.

Problem 1: Confirmation Bias. Confirmation bias is a problem that all investigators have. It has been proven by extensive scientific research. People tend to jump to conclusions when solving problems. The experienced and inexperienced alike fall victim when performing unguided deductive reasoning (5-Whys). TapRooT® avoids this bias by first requiring collection of information to thoroughly understand what happened before starting to find out why it happened – thus avoiding the bias. Also, the guided root cause analysis helps the investigator consider all possibilities.

Problem 2: Can’t Go Beyond Current Knowledge. If confirmation bias isn’t bad enough, deductive reasoning (5-Whys) can’t go beyond the person’s current knowledge. One must know the “cause and effect” chain before one can find it. TapRooT® has a built-in expert system to help investigators find problems that they previously would have overlooked. After every TapRooT® class, students report success finding causes they previously would have overlooked. Case closed? Not yet.

Problem 3: Single Cause Issue. Even those who use 5-Whys admit this problem. Often people who apply 5-Whys follow just one causal chain. Since accidents are seldom caused by a single Causal Factor, they only analyze a fraction of the issues that need to be solved. They miss the chance to solve major problems. This happens all the time. TapRooT® helps investigators look for all the Causal Factors. No missed opportunities. All problems analyzed.

Three strikes … You’re OUT! That’s not all the 5-Why problems but it’s enough for me to say: “Good Bye 5-Whys!

Root Cause Analysis
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