Life in Group 5 – A Resto Shaman Blog
A resto shaman perspective on raiding


February 3, 2010

The 5 Whys of Wiping: A Healer’s Lessons

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Written by: Vixsin
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Another argument for Imp Reincarnation

If you ever have the inclination to study supply chain management, manufacturing, or production system design, you will likely bump into an evaluation technique called “The 5 Whys”. Originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and later incorporated into the Toyota Production System, The 5 Whys posits that to find the root of a problem, you generally need to dial down at least 5 layers of causality. I found myself reminded of this method while playing one of my alts this past weekend through a number of PuG instances and raids. The groups wiped, a number of times, for a host of reasons, but I’m sure every healer out there can guess what or who each of the groups identified as the problem. This lead me to wonder—as WoW players, I would argue that we are as familiar with wiping as we are with boss kills; so why are we so awful at identifying why we failed?


The Problem: We wiped.

Often accompanied by that sinking feeling, wiping can be the death knell of an otherwise smooth PuG. Heck, even a guild run through ICC can be disrupted by a series of unfortunate circumstances. Even before everyone has hit “Release” it starts—the finger-pointing, the blame, or even worse, the silence that falls before a PuG insta-disbands. These days it seems that players of all levels have little tolerance for wipes, no matter the reason or cause. But I look at wipes as a way to dial down into some issues that don’t often get brought up during the play-by-play critique. For the sake of example, let’s follow one such chain of whys which occurred during a pug ToGC25 Faction Champs wipe this past weekend.

1. Why did we wipe? Because everyone was dead.
Yes, this one is kind of a no-brainer. But, in following causality of a wipe it is important to note that one death, two deaths, multiple deaths, do not necessarily result in a loss of durability for everyone. The cause of a wipe is generally not that one person has died (although I will concede that in single-tank fights the likelihood of a wipe increases sharply once your tank bites the dust.) The cause of a wipe is generally that your raid has had a string of bad decisions or a chain of negative consequences. In terms of strategy design, redundancy is a great thing; in terms of player culpability, a wipe is never on one player’s shoulders alone.

2. Why did everyone die? Because they weren’t healed.
Another no brainer here, but somewhat interestingly, this is oftentimes where some players’ analyses end, as they ask the question that puts Group 5’s residents on edge, “What happened there, healers?”. Grrrrrrrr. As a healer, I feel a consistent tension between my responsibility to keep others alive and their responsibility to enable me to do so. The gist of this second why is what I have to remind myself of time and time again—my healing powers cannot work on someone who is oblivious to their own well-being. The lock who likes tanking the Bladestorming warrior, is likely going to end up dead no matter how much mana I pour into him. But this isn’t to say that I get to point fingers or QQ; in the end it comes down to me to keep those green bars filled.

3. Why weren’t they healed? Because there was too much damage going out.
Ah, now we’re getting into the heart of the matter. Assuming that there wasn’t a shiny distracting object outside my window, or that the fire department didn’t break down my front door to yank me away from an overheated and flaming Alienware, chances are I was actually attempting to heal through the damage that was going out. Chances are as damage ramped up, I started mashing buttons (or clicking, for us Clique fans) all that much harder. But despite my best efforts and split-second casting decisions, I was soon overwhelmed with the sheer volume of damage that everyone was taking. This point goes hand-in-hand with the preceding one—my healing powers are not limitless. Healers, like dps, have limitations.

4. Why was there so much damage? Because the adds weren’t controlled.
These days, it’s oftentimes too easy to lapse into the chain-pull-and-aoe-it-all mentality, and forget that there are mobs out there that hurt, that are meant to be controlled in some way, shape or form. Heck, even the concept of a “priority dps target” seems to be a thing of the past; eschewing AOE for single-target damage is something that most dps simply will not do without prodding. And while we aren’t back to the SSC/TK level of CC (ah, those were the days), the fact remains that some encounters are heavily reliant on control and execution; their problems cannot be solved with copious amounts of healing.

5. Why weren’t the adds under control? Because the players weren’t clear about their cc assignments.
Of course, I’m using the ideal example for when a communication breakdown can have disastrous results, but more often than not it seems that coordination between players, between the intention of the strategy and the execution of the strategy, is to blame. Maybe it’s your healers not being clear about their assignments, maybe it’s players getting confused about which frost patch to run to first; whatever the problem, chances are it can be solved with a greater investment of forethought and direction.


Uh, Duh

Honestly, this chain of thought isn’t that hard to follow or that mentally intensive. In fact, as one of my raiding teammates pointed out to me, the entire preceding causality chain is pretty dumb—and I quote: “No shyte you wipe cause people can’t CC! What the heck is the value of the 5 Whys if I can just skip right to the end?”

It is definitely a good question (and maybe didn’t completely deserve my stony/angry, protracted silence). What is the point of the whole evaluation technique? What does the process reveal with such a simple answer? [Just pretend I’m employing some artsy reverse-time-and-show-you-what-you-missed mechanic here.]

  1. A wipe is a string of bad consequences—there are very, very few times where one mistake by one player will be an insta-wipe (Hunters on Yogg-0, you prove the exception to this rule.) So capitalize on the chances you have to make a difference instead of simply going down with the ship.
  2. As much as healers can pump out massive amounts of damage mitigation, there are still things that non-healers need to do to help us do our jobs. (EG: staying in range, taking care of themselves, moving away from the big baddie, getting out of the beam of death, not focusing exclusively on bignumbaz, killing things that silence/interrupt, etc.) Educate your teammates; they are in fact on your side.
  3. Healers have a limit on what they can individually and collectively mitigate in terms of incoming damage. Don’t believe in this limit, test it when you can, but don’t be hurt if you fall short.
  4. Healing brute force is not an actual strategy. In fact, a little bit of prevention can go a long way to making our lives easier.
  5. Last but not least, communication, leadership, and execution can make or break a fight.

One of my past professors likened system failure to a block of Swiss Cheese, where the holes have coincidently all aligned to form one hole all the way through the block. This is to say that at any given time during a raid, or during a boss fight, there are any number of failures occurring. Little isolated holes, completely independent of eachother—untimely dispels, blown dps rotations, late heals, popped CDs, etc. On their own they are relatively harmless. Align some and you might have a situation for Nature’s Swifteness; align them all and you end up face down on the floor.


  1. Methane

    Haha, i’m a manufacturing engineer for Intel and do all sorts of training classes for this…. I’ve found myself applying all the same skills to our raids as well. Happy to see I’m not alone in my dorkery

  2. It’s the fear of the wipe and the realization that the wipe will more than likely be attributed to healer failure that keeps me playing my shammy as ele first and resto second even though I actually enjoy healing more than frying baddies. There must be some macro that a healer could spam at the beginning of every pug….”5 simple rules” or something.
    .-= Eversor´s last blog ..Random acts of WoWness… =-.

  3. jimmboo

    hmm, interesting wot, gz 😛

  4. I wish people had the foresight to consider all these options whenever our groups suffer a wipe, be they PuG or organised. Unfortunately, whilst I am there looking through my logs at the same time as rezzing members too lazy to run back into ToC, they are just talking about how the healers didn’t manage to save people standing in fire bombs. The saddest moment in WoW (from a healer’s perspective) is when DPS not only blame the healers, but then blame other DPS who are below them on meters.

    If inside a PuG, this quite quickly becomes a witch hunt for people not ‘pulling their weight’. Sadly, it is normally the people top of the meters causing problems, since they are so single-mindedly focusing on DPSing the boss with their super-tight rotations that they forgot to switch to adds, or kick, or dispel, or spellsteal.

    So then the fun really starts. DPS gets kicked, new ones are brought in, we start the fight we fail we disband.

    This is actually why I like keeping a SKADA window open during the fight. Not only for heals, but for tracking fails in PuG groups, so I’m immediately ready to defend myself if necessary (but that doesn’t stop the twangs of guilt for letting people die, even after spamming Grid until almost OOM).

  5. Very, very occasionally, a target has fallen simply because I was slow to heal – usually this occurs on faction champions in toc when somebody gets rogued + huntered at the same time.

    far more often, it’s because they stood in a fire, pulled aggro, or didn’t kill the important targets first.
    .-= Kaethir´s last blog ..On Raids, and the Leading Thereof =-.

  6. Revealing the depths of my “dorkery”, one post at a time … (hehe)

    In all, I think the tendency to blame healers for wipes isn’t necessarily wrong; it simply isn’t following all the way through with the train of thought. When it comes down to it, we are responsible for keeping HP > 0, no matter the stress or challenge involved. But, I find there’s a significant difference between identifying a problem so that a solution can be found, and simply trying to play the blame game.

    Learning to play and heal as a disc priest, I absolutely was (and probably will be in raids to come) responsible for an awful lot of wipes. But, in those wipes lies the opportunity for improvement, on everybody’s part. I have a favorite quote from Henry Ford that I picked up in the same systems failure class that turned me on to the 5 Whys–“Don’t find fault. Find a remedy.”

  7. maccae

    Having a group of healers that stick together helps a lot; we don’t take crap from anyone, will go to bat for each other but we are also responsible enough to fess up when we screw up.

    I always hated it when a dps or tank wrongfully accuse us of not doing our job ” i didn’t get a heal for like 10 seconds!” because i will be quick to answer ” you had 175% incoming heal on you, you just died before anyone could do anything” – also Recount Death’s tab tell you how they spent the last seconds of your pixelized life – they usually lie about the omg 10 second gap without heal *snicker*

    as for this gem: “Healing brute force is not an actual strategy” I’m going to steal that from you and say it ad nauseam because it’s often used as a strategy in my guild – we have a bunch of people with 2 left feet and healers have to save the day by healing through their opsies o.0

  8. “As a healer, I feel a consistent tension between my responsibility to keep others alive and their responsibility to enable me to do so.”

    What an elegant statement. I’ve often said that healing encounters was easy, and healing players is hard, but the reminder that players have to enable their healers is powerful.

    The difference between players who understand the importance of situational and environmental awareness and those who don’t is the difference of night and day. When I am tempted to use brute force healing to cover other people’s mistakes I have to remember that it only makes farm content easier, and doesn’t help us in the least for progression. If the players in the raid aren’t mindful and aware, they are going to die because it takes more than incoming heals to keep someone alive.

  9. Vaishevik

    Great article. I always like to evaluate why our raid wiped, but I never open my mouth unless I can find some info to support my suspicions. Otherwise it’s just an excuse.

    Are there any good Add-ons for checking who forgot to get out of the flame? Or who kept DPSing when the sheild went up on the boss? I find it very frustrating trying to explain why people die when I’m busy monitoring 4 or 9 or 24 other bodies.

    Even healing the LFG 5 mans with my shammie can get frustrating, because usually players are either running them for the first time, or the first time on their latest character. The result is they assume the mechanics no longer apply to them. Everything can be strong-armed, and if they aren’t kept alive while standing in the fire it must be the healer’s fault.

  10. @Vaishevik
    I know that Skada (and I’m sure Recount) offers details of damage taken, any ‘fails’ (standing in flames for too long etc.), the last information on what happened to a character (including heals and damage) and some other little pieces that you can drill into for info after the fact.

    I also found an addon called Obituary (WoWInterface Link). It gives you details of the player’s death such as a summary showing what dmg killed them and then you can get a full report on dmg done to them and also healing received. I’m not sure if it’s currently going to work with 3.3, but try checking Load Out of Date Addons and see how it goes.

  11. Vaishevik

    Much appreciated! I’ll try them out.

    Much as I like to complain about the other players, I’d also like to be sure I’m not doing stupid mistakes that could be avoided.

  12. I generally stick with Skada and WoL (realtime) to see what went down after a particularly heinous wipe. A former MT used to swear by Obituary, though I never was motivated enough to give it a shot. Generally, death logs are helpful, but imo, it’s also important to evaluate other aspects of the fight that you know can cause problems. So, I also check interrupts, dispels, damage taken, etc. to get a fuller picture of what went wrong. And of course, nothing beats good old fashioned observation. In the end, though, I rarely speak up about others’ mistakes, knowing that my own are simply some RNG away.

  13. […] inability to hit a designated key. As I mentioned in my post a couple months back about the 5 Whys of Wiping, getting to the root cause of an issue will assure that you can remedy the problem and not simply […]

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