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GEMBA KAIZEN: 5 Whys Root Cause Analysis Tool & Examples

Updated on May 08, 2015
Root cause analysis helps solve problems
Root cause analysis helps solve problems | Source

Root cause analysis

The 5 Whys is among the best root-cause analysis tools that is used for getting to the real cause of any problem through iterative interrogation of the apparent causes.

It is one of the most effective methods of problem solving as it results in a deep understanding of the complex interaction of unseen factors.

It is a problem solving approach within the kaizen toolbox that must be constantly applied to the work place so as to avoid problem recurrence. This article discusses the various root-cause analysis tools as well the process and methods for carrying out a thorough analysis of problems.

We will also look at a few root cause analysis examples to help explain the concept better.

5 Whys Root Cause Analysis in Kaizen

As a manager in a Kaizen system, you are expected to solve problems that occur everyday in your area of control. The problem solving approach in Kaizen requires a methodological investigation of a problem before rushing to provide solutions.

Before you solve problems, you have to know why they occurred in the first place. This is called root cause analysis and is a prerequisite for any problem solving activity. Managers in a Kaizen system are supposed to be problem solvers and not complainers.

Solving problems at the Gemba

In the Kaizen method, when a problem occurs you are supposed to do the following:

  • Go to where the work is normally done- the Gemba
  • Check for Muda (waste), Mura (variation) and Muri (strain)
  • Check the equipment and facilities (Gembutsu)
  • Ask why five times
  • Put in place counter-measures to prevent recurrence of the problem

A doctor does a root cause analysis on a patient
A doctor does a root cause analysis on a patient | Source

Kaizen Terminology

Gemba - The real place where work is done

Muda - Any activity that does not add value to a product from the perspective of the customer. This includes unnecessary transport, inventory, motion, waiting, over-production, over-processing and defects.

Mura - Variation in processes or products

Muri - Avoidable stress on human beings or machines

Gembutsu - The machines, equipment or physical facilities of an organisation.

A company with problems is like a sick patient

There is an analogy that is popular in Kaizen that likens an organization which has problems to a sick patient. When a patient visits the clinic, the doctor first tries to find out what is wrong with him before prescribing medication.

The doctor checks the vital signs of his patient such as blood pressure and temperature to see if they have deviated from what is expected for a normal patient. He also looks at the physical signs of the patient.

The doctor checks the symptoms before giving medication. If he gives medication without knowing what the problem is, the patient will not be cured of his illness.

Problem solving

The same applies to an organization. When an organization is faced with serious problems it is like a sick patient. Before prescribing any solutions, you must first investigate the root cause of the problem.

Solving problems frivolously is not a permanent solution and will lead to recurrence in the future. The root cause analysis is the best way to develop countermeasures that will have a lasting effect on the problem.

When a problem occurs....

  • Go to Gemba
  • Check Gembutsu
  • Check for Muda, Mura and Muri
  • Ask why? five times
  • Put in place counter-measures to prevent recurrence

Root Cause Analysis Tools

Problem solving is done using root-cause analysis tools and data analysis techniques such as:

  • Ishakawa or Fish-bone diagrams
  • Pareto analysis using pareto charts
  • Failure mode and effects analysis
  • Fault tree analysis
  • Cause and effect analysis
  • Causal analysis
  • 5 whys analysis
  • Root cause failure analysis
  • 8d corrective action plan
  • Capa analysis

Do you analyse the root cause of problems when they occur

See results

Ishakawa Diagrams

Also known as fish-bone or cause and effect diagrams, these tools are used for investigating the factors surrounding a problem and trying to pinpoint the causal agents. The cause and effect analysis is centred around six factors of production within an organization:

  • Man
  • Machines
  • Methods
  • Materials
  • Measurements
  • Environment


When trying to find the causes of a problem using the Ishakawa diagrams, the problem is put at the end of the diagram, while the possible causes are put along the sides. Each cause is attributed to any of the factors mentioned above. Once the exercise is over, one is able to have a clear picture of what is causing the problem and can start attacking it one by one.

Failure Mode and Effects Analysis

This is an approach for determining the various ways a product design or manufacturing process can fail and the possible effects of that failure. This is more of a pre-emptive tool than a problem solving mechanism and is best applied during the introduction of a new design or procedure.

5 Whys Root Cause Analysis

The 5 whys root cause analysis is a way is drilling down to the real cause of a problem. Often, when a problem occurs, the first cause that we attribute to it is usually superficial and needs further probing. By asking why to the first answer, one gets a clearer picture of the cause.

The 5 whys analysis is carried out in the following manner:

Problem is stated

  1. Why did the problem occur?
  2. Answer
  3. Why?
  4. Answer
  5. Why?
  6. Answer
  7. Why?

You continue asking why of every answer given until you get to the root of the problem. The main point to understand is that the question can be more or fewer than five. The aim is to get to the root cause and if it happens before the five questions are over it is fine. There are many root cause analysis examples that can be used to explain this concept better.

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      David Gitachu 3 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Thanks barbat79 for your comment.

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      B A Tobin 3 years ago from Connnecticut

      Interesting article!

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