5 whys remote workshop Template

How to run a (remote) 5 Whys workshop

20 November 2020

Sometimes, problems at work feel like a Nietzschean Eternal return. No matter the number of quick fixes you make, the same problems keep on appearing over and over again. 

Generally, this makes us either tenser, knocking our head against the wall and clenching teeth; and/or more demotivated. “It is how it is” sighs your good old coworker. Often, the blame game is on and teams get more divided. 

Sounds familiar? 

Then the 5 whys workshop might help you out. 

What is the five whys technique?

The 5 whys technique is a problem-solving method that helps you uncover the root cause of a problem in order to fix it and improve processes continuously. It refers to repeating the question “why?” at least five times to define the nature of the problem and, by the same means, develop solutions to solve it.  

Where does the five whys technique come from?

The method originated from Toyota Motor Corporation in the 1930s and has been used within Kaizen, Lean Manufacturing, and Six Sigma. Eric Ries made it popular in the startup world by describing it in his bestseller book, The Lean Startup, as well as on his blog

When to run a 5 Whys workshop?

Immediately after facing an unexpected challenge or when tackling recurrent roadblocks at work. 

The method is more effective when trying to resolve a simple or moderately complex problem. If you’re facing a very complex or critical problem, the 5 Whys workshop may be a good starting point but should probably be combined with a Root Cause Analysis workshop. 

How long does a 5 Whys workshop take? 

Dedicate around 45 to 60 minutes with your team to run this activity.

How to run a Five Whys workshop?

1. Gather the right people

Invite all members affected by the challenge to the discussion. Either onset or in an online workshop on platforms such as Excelway.

2. Assign a facilitator

Within the meeting, assign a person to lead the discussion. This person should, preferably, already be familiar with the problem, but does not need to be a manager or executive.

3. Identify the main problem

With the team, agree on a clear and specific problem statement. Once the problem is defined, start asking “Why”. “Why did that happen? Why wasn’t it prevented by our processes?”. 

The first why is key to shift the focus to the desired path. 

4. Dig deeper

Search for answers that are grounded in facts. Following each answer, identifying a cause, ask why again. Repeat this process as many times as needed until you reach the core point at issue. 

 5. Decide on the actions

Once the causes are identified, make a list of corrective actions for each step to fix the problem. As well as take preventive measurements to not fall in the same trap a second time.

 6. Document the process

Write down everything in detail from the first question to the list of why’s and their corrective actions. 

 7. Communicate the information

For the sake of being transparent, email the information to all the team. Not only will it make them more aware and engaged in what is going on within the company, but it clarifies information regarding the workflow. It will make more sense when department A understands that the reason department B failed to submit the project before the deadline is that they are dedicating more time to resolve the problems at hand.


How to run a Five Whys remote workshop in Excelway?

Excelway comes with a built-in 5 Whys template that will help all participants focus and contribute better. 

Visual cues such as colors and columns make the different steps of the process clearer to follow for all.

1. Define the problem

If the problem statement is clear, you can simply write it as your activity’s name. That way, it will be visible at all steps of the process. 

If the problem statement is yet to be formulated or is under debate, you can run a quick brainstorm asking participants to contribute through sticky notes. If the discussion doesn’t lead to a clear answer, run a vote on the sticky notes, and let the result and the facilitator make the final decision.

2. Use columns to write the answers to each Why

In this template, each step of the process or “Why” asked, is expressed in a column, allowing for the process to be easily read and followed from left to right (or right to left if using Excelway in Arabic). The answer to each step is written on a sticky note with a category that you might call “Problem”.This sticky note can be written by one person, the facilitator, or by the team in a brainstorming and voting session. However, it’s very important to only keep one sticky note per column in order to not sprout branches and derail the meeting. Remember that 5 Whys is about quickly identifying the likely root cause and not surveying all problems at once.

Example of remote 5 Whys workshop with Excelway


3. Brainstorm solutions

Create a second category of cards called “Solution”. In each column, allow for the participants to contribute and vote on the best solution to the problem. Again, only one solution should remain. If the team doesn’t agree on a unique solution, you can run a vote on the “Solution” cards.


Voting feature during 5 Whys remote workshop

4. Assign responsibility for corrective actions

At the end of the activity, go over the solution cards and fill in the details needed by clicking on each of them: assignee, deadline, description, and even check-list. Turn those cards into tasks automatically by selecting the solutions category.

Assign corrective actions on Excelway during remote 5 Whys workshop

5. Send corrective actions to a board

In the tasks section, dispatch the corrective actions to the relevant board.

6. Share with everyone

If you created a public session, you can simply share the link with anyone in the team so that they can see the workshop results without running the risk to edit or delete anything. If you created a private session, you can invite people to the session or export the activity in CSV or PNG format and share it in the way that’s most convenient. 

Are you ready?

We hope this article helps you get started with or double down your team’s problem-solving skills.

Workshop methods are no magical recipe by themselves. They show your team a path to try, which is meant to be improved and refined with experience. When done with enough curiosity and heart, they trigger a change in mindset.

And when that happens, it is truly magical.


Written by Sophia

Passionate about how people build things together, Sophia has dedicated her academic and professional work to understanding group collaboration in a remote setting. Today, she is the founder of Excelway.
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