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How to Understand Your User: 5 Why Method

Understanding the users of your website, software or digital product of any kind is crucial for its success. If your users encounter a problem, you want to find out the root cause of it in order to be able to make your product help them solve it. The “5 Why Method” by Toyota founder Sakichi Toyoda is a great tool to find that root cause of some error.

When the 5 Why Method is helpful

Asking “Why is this or that?” repeatedly is a children’s thing to do, you might say. Going beyond the first “Why” can be very beneficial though for content strategists, developers, product managers or other people in charge of troubleshooting or improving digital products as well. 

The 5 Why Method It is an easy analysis tool, if you want to find out the cause of a problem or an error – as a basis to improve your offer and better understand your users’ challenges. In order to derive the cause of something, you ask five times “Why is this?”. 

As you can either ask that yourself or someone who noticed the problem in the first place. That can be your user or any tester of your digital product. By the end of this process, you will have identified the actual underlying root cause of that problem.

How to apply the 5 Why Method

Applying the 5 Why Method sounds more straight-forward than I experienced it to be when I practiced using it. The tricky part is to extract that part of your interviewee’s answer that helps you continue with your next Why question.

But let’s take it step by step with an example.

Let’s say, members of your target group have pointed out to be having a specific challenge. For example, the company blog looks inconsistent. That’s the problem you’ve identified. So you start asking:

  • Why does your blog look inconsistent? ➡ Because each blog post uses different fonts and styles.
  • Why are different fonts and styles being used? ➡ Because we have 10 people writing blog posts who do it their own way.
  • Why do they do it their own way? ➡ Because we don’t have a template for it.
  • Why don’t you have a template for it? ➡ Because we don’t have anyone on the team who can create one.
  • Why don’t you have someone to create a template? ➡ Because our team hasn’t been trained to do so.

You might notice that what looked like a technical problem in the first place, turned out to be a management and people training issue lying underneath. In many cases, you could even ask deeper than 5 times in order to find the real root cause and take action accordingly. And this is crucial: The 5 Why Method helps you to identify starting points for solving your issue, so please do take action.


5 Why Method benefits summarized

When we’re trying to find the real cause of an issue, we’re oftentimes too quick in assuming we know it. Entering into dialogue with our users or people who encounter the issue and asking “Why” can help us find the real underlying cause. Thus, again: Listening and asking the right questions is key!