The Five Whys

What

This simple questioning device is used in the beginning stages of service design to get to the root of an issue or situation by asking five increasingly pointed "why?" questions. Limiting the question & answer chain to 5, ensures that the process gets to a helpful revelation or cause instead of continuing in circles. 

How (Example)

1. Why is swimming prohibited in Lake Erie this week?

Because people could get sick from the water right now.

2. Why is the water unhealthy?

There is a harmful algae bloom on the surface of the Lake.

3. Why is the algae growing on the Lake?

Increased levels of phosphorous in the water contribute to the growing scum.

4. Why is there extra phosphorous in the Lake water?

Farmers in nearby communities dump the agricultural waste into the Lake.

5. Why are the farmers dumping waste into the Lake?

There is no policy for agricultural waste containment in Northeast Ohio.

Why the Why's

The example above demonstrates how a short series of targeted questions can help get to the root of an issue. From here, the issue can be better categorized and addressed moving forward.