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  • Writer's pictureDr. Babette Sonntag

5 Ultimate questions to uncover your audience's pain points - The 5 Whys

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

Numbers with the 5 in the middle
5 Whys

A method to easily get to the heart of the message you want to communicate: the 5-Why method.

Background information on the method

It originally comes from quality management and is an instrument for determining cause and effect. Toyoda Sakichi is considered the father of this method. He was a great inventor and founder of Toyota Industries Corporation, Ltd. His main message is as follows: If a problem arises, ask "why?" five times in order to identify the cause. Then change the production process so that the problem can no longer occur. This concept is now part of the 6 Sigma method for problem solving, quality improvement and cost reduction.

An example from

To illustrate this technique, I'll quote an example from kanbanize. com (The 5 whys : The ultimate root cause analysis tool (

Problem - We didn't send the newsletter for the latest software updates on time.

Why didn't we send the newsletter on time? Updates were only implemented on the deadline.

Why weren't the updates implemented on time? Because the developers were still working on the new features.

Why were the developers still working on the new features? One of the new developers didn't know the procedures.

Why wasn't the new developer familiar with the procedures? It wasn't communicated properly.

Why wasn't it communicated properly? Because the CTO believes that new hires don't need thorough training and they should learn on the job.

The cause of the initial problem now turns out to be something completely different than most expected in the beginning.

The 5 whys as a communication tool

For us, this is about communication and target groups. And this is exactly where this method can help as a communication tool to formulate our message precisely.

The number of question levels, i.e. how often I ask "why", is not limited to five.

Curious children often play this game endlessly. It goes like this, for example: Why is the plane in the sky so small? Because it is so far up and therefore far away. Why is it so high? etc... It is important for us, who want to use this method for better preparation for communication, that we keep asking until the motivation, a need, a problem is clearly identified and can no longer be further divided - until we get to the actual point have come. The first problem that is mentioned is often not the real one. For example, a colleague says that he won't be able to finish the project report by tomorrow because he has so much to do. But the real problem after asking more questions 5 times turned out to be that he lacked the input from Controlling and would have to ask repeatedly. Then you can start to solve the problem.

The five questions are like a sculptor's tool, using which more and more unnecessary material is removed until the shape of his art emerges.

With the 5 Whys, you can put yourself in the shoes of your target group and see which pain points really bother them. If you answer them consistently, you will get beneath the surface and be able to build your argument more convincingly. This not only helps you to find out what the problem really is, but above all to hit the nerve of your counterpart with your argumentation in the conversation.

A personal example: arguments for the introduction of a tool

Situation: I want to convince my team members in the innovation division of a tech company that we use a tool to collect, tag and map technology trends. At the moment we often get bogged down and don't know what is really important.


1) Why are we getting bogged down with too many topics and too few results? We don't have a good overview of really important tech trends in our industry.

2) Why don't we have an overview? Because our knowledge of the innovation landscape is distributed among many heads and we cannot simply share our knowledge.

3) Why can't the knowledge just be shared? Because it is very complex, takes time, is constantly changing, no time, stress in day-to-day business,...

4) Why is that so complicated? Because we have to do it orally, i.e. in meetings, or in writing. And we don't have a system for finding the information again.

5) Why don't we have a system for this? Because everyone does it for themselves. Because we don't have a central place, process or structure for it.

I think I could continue this game of questions. But here we already have 5 arguments for a central tool-based solution based on the mentioned pain points:

  • no getting bogged down in prioritizing the most important innovation trends

  • easily findable information for everyone

  • Little effort when storing the knowledge and thus fewer inhibitions when using it

  • Time savings

  • fewer meetings

With the 5 Whys you not only recognize the problem, but also the solution to it. And it´s already clearly specified because the most important basic requirements have become visible.

Try it next time, e.g. when you are preparing your benefit presentation for an idea or want to bring in a new suggestion in your team!

Please note: This text is translated into English by using Google Translate - I apologize for any mistakes in this text I may have overlooked.


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