5 WHYs: Positive Root Cause Analysis To Find Good Practices

by Avienaash Shiralige

In my earlier article I shared my opinion about using 5 WHYs to find root causes. What I really missed to point was, it is not just applied to find root cause to problems, but it can be used to find root cause to good things that are happening on the team.

In sprint retrospectives we usually pick some problem that occurred, try to figure out why it happened, and then understand how we could prevent this problem from happening again in the future. Our root cause analysis meetings are usually always on “What is That Not Going Well”.

5 Whys Postive Root Cause Analysis

Now let’s apply 5 WHYs thinking to this question…

“Why our last few sprints have gone so well?”

  1. Why we are successful?
    • Because we are able to deliver everything tested with high quality within our 2 weeks sprint
  2. Why we were able to test everything within a sprint
    • Because we invested in test automation from start of the project and is paying off
    • Also our testing team started testing quite early in the sprint
  3. Why this was possible?
    • Our developers delivered stories in frequent intervals as they limited work-in-progress (WIP) to two stories instead of three
    • Also our stories were small enough to complete in 1-2 days

Here you see new set of good practices like test automation, limiting work-in-progress (WIP), splitting user stories small enough are emerging. Applying this positive root cause analysis on things going well will lead us to practices that are making teams successful.

Agile Coach can use this to find good practices that are emerging on each team within the organization and start sharing between different teams.

Good things go viral and positive root cause analysis can make agile adoption faster and easier.

About Avienaash Shiralige


Avienaash Shiralige is an Agile Coach, Trainer, Business Optimisation and Agile Transformation Consultant @ AgileBuddha. He has been on senior leadership positions in various companies and comes with very rich 17+ years of experience in product and service companies. He has consulted companies in India, US, Europe and Australia on Agile/Scrum/Lean/Kanban and successfully set-up various distributed agile teams across timezones. He can be reached at avienaash@gmail.com.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben Linders September 17, 2012 at 11:58 am

Root Cause Analysis, and also Retrospectives can also be used to find strengths as you describe in this article.

At one time I did a project evaluation. I asked the team members what went good, and what could be better, what they learned and what puzzles them? One team member mentioned that he was surprised that the project delivered on time. He didn’t expect at that at the start. Several other team members agreed with him. I started a discussion to see what the team had done to make the project a success. By repeatedly asking why, we developed a picture why this project was a success. Root causes (in this case positive ones) where the way they collaborated, communicated, and gave feedback to each other. That had helped them to solve a lot of problems earlier, and prevent some others, so that they could finish the project on time.

The project team was already dismantled, and team members were working in different projects. Some of them experienced problems in their project. Now that they became more aware of their strengths, they were able to address issues in their new project. They had learned how to work together and be more effective, and the project evaluation helped them to apply these skills in different settings.

So yes, you can use techniques like Root Cause Analysis to find strengths, and use that to improve.
Ben Linders recently posted..Re: Als je goed kijkt, zie je meer

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Avienaash Shiralige September 21, 2012 at 10:09 am

Thanks Ben for sharing your thoughts. I liked your story and I completely agree with you. Using RCA to find positive side of the project and people make it very simple and powerful tool.

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Damiano November 17, 2012 at 2:28 am

Yes! The question of why (some) thnigs work has been long overlooked, imo. Although it’s probably fair to say that it’s taken some years to understand that (many) specific practices actually DO work.As well as Why? I would also ask the crucial question and in what context? BTW Are those diagrams Current Reality Trees (TOC) or something else?- Bob

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