Why? — a short follow-up

5 whys

Asking “Why?” a number of times can help lead to a problem’s root cause

I successfully finished a ISO 9001 class last week on being a lead auditor and during the training was reminded of an easy technique for getting to the root cause of some types of problems we face, including as systems administrators.

Related to another post a while back, the idea is to explore the reasons for an outage or a problem by asking “Why?” a number of times (five appears to be a good number), usually focusing on a process that failed (or doesn’t exist).

Perhaps some problems are too complex for this simple method but for those, you’re already likely using a trained facilitator to get to your problem’s root cause.

Beware of easily-misdirecting answers like: “we didn’t have enough time” or “not enough funding”. Those may seem like things outside of our control. Redirect the question by asking about the process and you might get answers like “we didn’t budget enough time” instead. Now you’ve identified a process that you can work on to improve.


Give it a try for some problem you’re facing—it might just be the right tool for you in your situation.

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