When an incident occurs, it's essential to understand the root cause to prevent it from happening again. The 5 Whys methodology has been a widely used tool in this domain for decades. However, as the complexity of real-world incidents has evolved, the limitations of the 5 Whys methodology have become increasingly apparent.

The 5 Whys methodology relies heavily on the person conducting the analysis. This can lead to subjectivity and bias, as different people may interpret the incident and its causes differently. This can result in a lack of consistency and accuracy in the analysis.

It's important to highlight that the 5 Whys methodology only focuses on the immediate cause of the incident rather than looking at the bigger picture. This can lead to a narrow understanding of the incident and its underlying causes. It also does not take into account any contributing factors or systemic issues that may have played a role in the incident.

Who created the 5 Whys methodology?

The 5 Whys methodology, originally conceived by Sakichi Toyoda in the 1970s and adopted by the Toyota Motor Corporation, it has served as a valuable tool in incident investigation. Nonetheless, modern incidents often involve multifaceted challenges that demand a more comprehensive approach.

The evolution of incident investigation

Today, we are excited to introduce a white paper written by our Head of Investigations, Alan Smith. This white paper explores a more comprehensive approach to incident investigation: "Enhancing Incident Investigation: Moving beyond the limitations of the 5 Whys methodology with COMET Lite." 

In this white paper, we'll take a closer look at the conventional 5 Whys methodology and how it falls short in addressing the multifaceted challenges presented by today's incidents. We'll then introduce COMET Lite, a new approach designed to fill the gaps left by the 5 Whys methodology.


The 5 Whys methodology has been a popular approach to incident analysis for many years, but it has certain limitations. COMET Lite offers a more advanced and modern approach to incident analysis. By choosing COMET Lite, organisations can enhance their incident investigation processes, uplift operational performance and by de-fault improve safety and reduce future incidents.

Download Our White Paper

About the Author


Alan Smith is the Head of Investigations at STC Insiso. Before this role, he co-founded Matrix Risk Control (UK) Ltd in 2008. With a background as a Detective Superintendent at Police Scotland, he led investigations into major crime and numerous offshore fatality incidents in the North Sea Oil and Gas sector.

This drove Alan's passion to improve performance in this arena, and during the past 12 years since leaving the Police, Alan has established himself as a specialist incident investigation and root cause analysis trainer, having delivered numerous programmes in the UK, Europe, UAE, Australia, China and the USA.

Post his Law Enforcement career, Alan became accredited at Senior Instructor level in both Kelvin TOPSET and TapRooT RCA systems again embedding multiple training programmes globally. In 2012, Alan was commissioned by a US based Aerospace Engineering Company to lead a team of specialists to build a bespoke RCA system COMET which has since been adopted as the system of choice for most operators in the North Sea Oil and Gas sector and growing in popularity sector wide globally. Alan was driven to build a system with proactive application beyond single incidents.

Alan is a regular international conference speaker and provides thought leadership on the philosophy of Human and Organisational Performance, helping organisations use Root Cause Learning to build Human Error resilience.

Investigation Experience

In his final Law Enforcement role, Alan led many offshore fatalities and high-profile investigations, including in 2007, the capsize of the MV Bourbon Dolphin with the loss of 5 lives.

In his current role, Alan has deployed globally to numerous Fatality, Process Safety and Environmental events as lead investigator or RCA facilitator most recently earlier this year with a drilling client who has endured 2 consecutive incidents with 3 fatalities.