Skip to content

Five Whys Map

Recently I’ve mashed up a few ideas and found a useful new tool for myself (and a few friends): the Five Whys Map. It combines The Five Whys exercise with a mind map. I’ve found it to be a bit more useful than a single line of Five Whys for identify underlying assumptions. It also helps me find connections between things that I might otherwise not have made. The interweb tells me that people have, of course, already done this. I’ve personally only experienced 1-dimensional Five Whys, so it was new to me.

The pieces that I used

The Five Whys Map came up from a mix of things. I’ve been doing a few Five Whys exercises (trying to get to a root cause). A few weeks ago I went to a great talk by Karen and Sam of Growing Agile (which reminded me of the usefulness of mind maps). I keep coming back to using Impact Maps for things.

I’ve also been facilitating (and sometimes taking part in) quite a lot of retrospective-type things (that I’ve been using my lovely printed version of the retromat for). Myself and three friends have been having regular Freelancer Friday ‘Flections for a while: almost every week since about October 2016. For the past few months I’ve been doing them weekly with the peeps at Fire and Lion (where I’ve been contracting). The regular retros (and various odd things I’ve been reading) have put me into a more consciously analytical state of mind, especially for digging deeper into things and being sure of treating the source of a problem not the symptoms.

Pulling the pieces together

A few weeks ago, I decided to use the Five Whys (/ Socratic Method) to try and dig deeper into a problem I needed to explore. Thinking about it, I realised that the problem was complex and layered and that it wouldn’t come down to one single root cause. Mind maps came to, erm, mind. So I combined the Five Whys with a Mind Map.

I wrote the problem I wanted to think about in the middle and started a branch out from it using Why questions. As I was making the branch I saw that some of the Why questions could have more than one answer, especially the initial Why. I ended up with many branches out from the middle, and quite a few from the later nodes.

What was even more interesting was that I spotted connections between nodes on different branches. With many big, complex, problems, things are connected in ways that aren’t at first obvious. Exploring these options and ideas lead to new connections and new ideas about potential solutions.

Using the new (to me) thing

Since then I’ve used this Five Whys Map idea a few more times and found it to be a handy, quick, way of gaining a better understand of a problem, of finding more potential solutions than a regular Five Whys, and of making connections across pieces of the puzzle that I didn’t know about before.