Projects are about delivering solutions to problems and to find the solution to a problem you need to understand the problem. To understand a problem you first have to make sure you have identified the true problem.
Most people will tell you about the symptoms or start with a possible solution when asked “What is the problem?”. The five whys is a technique that will help you find the problem causing the symptoms. It consists of repeatedly asking why until you get to the problem.
What is the problem?
I think we need a faster server.
Why do you think we need a faster server?
The system is too slow.
Why is it too slow?
It takes forever to prepare management reports.
Why does it take forever?
I need lots of data from different places.
Why do you need lots of data?
I need it to assemble the management reports.
Why do you need to assemble the reports?
I don’t have all information I need in one place.
Five whys later, we have the true problem and we know that the solution is creating the management report in the system.
Project documentation describes the problem being solved and what is needed (the requirements) to solve the problem. This method is very useful when creating the problem statement for the project and for identifying the real requirements for the solution.