5 Why’s

Or why acting like your 5 might be a good thing

  • Child: Why is the sky blue?
    Parent: I don’t know
  • Child: Why don’t you know
    Parent: because I didn’t get taught that at school?
  • Child: Why didn’t you get taught that at school?
    Parent: because I didn’t pay attention
  • Child: Why didn’t you pay attention?
    Parent: because I was naughty
  • Child: Why were you naughty?
    Parent: because I didn’t eat my crusts

If you ask enough questions you get to the root cause and may end up solving the root cause of the issue rather than covering over the cracks or resolving symptoms of a greater problem. Also a greater understanding of the issues around the problem can help next time you attempt something similar or are planning for the future.


I think its ok to ask that many questions you get loads of input/info which is always a good thing. You have to be a bit careful how you phrase it perhaps not quite so bluntly is a good plan. The person your asking can take it the wrong way ‘you think they are wrong’ rather than you want to ‘find out and understand as much as possible’.

On the downside you do need to have some knowledge around the subject or you struggle to ask relevant questions. Also you need to know enough to know if you being fobbed off with a ‘eat your crusts’ style answer. Then you can ask the last question

‘Why does not eating crusts make you naughty?’

Sacred cows

You should also question the sacred cows, sometimes they just hang around because nobody questioning them. If they are legitimate they will only be made stronger by a bit of polite whying. There isn’t anything sacred about the number five its more a rule of thumb, you often only need one or two questions its the getting to the root cause that is the important thing.

Sometimes the root cause isn’t solvable and you just have to work back to the things you can solve. In The Lean Six Sigma Pocket Toolbook the authors give an example of the photocopier jamming.

  • the copier jams because the room has high humidity
  • why does high humidity make the paper jam?
  • because the paper absorbs the moisture.

Then you can go back to the problem you can solve – reducing the humidity in the room.

Digging for Requirements

Its also a useful idea when planning a project. In the Pragmatic Programmer they have a section you shouldn’t gather requirements you should dig for them.

‘Requirements rarely lie on the surface. Normally, they’re buried deep beneath layers of assumptions, misconceptions, and politics.’

Its much better than starting off building something on a false assumption.

As my friend Tim says assume makes an Ass out of U and Me. Curiousity about lots of things makes the world more interesting.