Saturday, September 26, 2009

WHY is asking "WHY" so important?

How many times have you thought you have solved a problem just to be plagued by its unwelcomed return? This is not only frustrating for you but think of the team members within your company trying to do their job and the "same ole" problems are hindering them each day. By NOT getting to the root cause of a problem this situation can be a costly act for the company, as well as break the mutual trust between you and your workforce since a leader's responsibility is to serve their customers (the team members).

It is important to ask WHY repeatedly when visiting the GEMBA to determine what is current happening versus what should be happening. In many cases we stop at a symptom to the problem because we are often pressured for results and quickly solving the problem without going past the symptom seems to be the best answer.

By repeatedly asking WHY, you can practice the "Go and See" trait to uncover the layers of symptoms that can lead to the root cause of a problem. Very often the first reason for a problem will lead you to another question then to another. Although some label it the "5 WHY's" you may find that you will need to ask the question fewer or more times than five before you find the issue that is responsible for the problem.

An important key factor to asking WHY is to determine the Cause and Effect relationship between the WHY's. This shows the relationship of given factors or cause that lead to the given situation "or effect" that is happening with the process. A rule or practice that I use is asking WHY or BECAUSE downward as we identify the root cause, and then to test the logic we ask THEREFORE upward back to the problem.

For example:

My car will not start (the problem)
WHY? The battery is dead (first why)
WHY? The alternator is not functioning properly (second why)
WHY? The alternator belt was broken (third why)
WHY? The alternator belt had worn over time (fourth why)
WHY? Owner had not replaced belt at recommended interval (fifth why) - ROOT CAUSE

So what happens if we keep asking WHY? How do we know when to STOP?

A couple of common rules I tend to teach by is:
  • when the problem changes context by asking another why.
  • when we tend to blame behaviors in people.
  • when it is out of our control or scope.
Let's look at an example that ask WHY too many times.
I overslept today (The problem)
  • WHY? My alarm clock didn't go off
  • WHY? The clock wasn't registering the time
  • WHY? The Clock was flashing on and off
  • WHY? There was a power failure or interruption
  • WHY? Lightning hit a nearby transformer
  • WHY? There was a storm
  • WHY? Barometric pressure changes in the atmosphere
  • WHY? Hot air and Cold air interact
  • WHY? Seasonal changes on the Earth
  • WHY? The Earth rotates.
When did we need to stop in that chain of WHYS? When could we have effectively countermeasured the problem?
If you are countermeasuring "storms" or "earth rotation" you have gone too far, this is out of your control. Will countermeasuring the storm solve the actual problem of oversleeping? These are the questions you ask to determine when you are at the actual root cause.
So the next time you are at the GEMBA remember a few of these rules to effectively getting to root cause and past a symptom. This will not only help your team members but effect cost and productivity as well. Till next time,
Tracey Richardson

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