Like most of us that have children, sometimes we can be pushed to our wits end by the ever pondering "why" question.
Just the other day, I was getting ready with my children. 7:30 rolled around and it was time to go. I asked my son, who was sitting on the couch watching TV, playing on his Kindle, listening to his iPod, and texting his grandmother (how is all that even possible) if he was ready and he replied yes. I said let's go, and he started heading to the door with no shoes on. I asked him, "Don't you need your shoes on?" and he hit me with a "why"!?!?!
Like a good parent, I resisted the urge to drag him out of the house without his shoes on and just simply told him, "Dude, you can't go to school without shoes on!"
But in all honesty, children's "whys" are not meant to pester us parents. Rather, our children are genuinely trying to get at the truth. Even from really early on when they start asking these how and why questions, they are asking them in order to get explanations.
When explanations come their way, sometimes our kids probe even further. This is a good thing as it tells us that our kids are playing more of an active role in learning about the world around them than we may have expected.
Using Why to Your Advantage
This very same principle can be applied in our daily adult work life. Over the years, I've had the honor of wearing a lot of different hats: Mailroom, Customer Service, Project Management, and now Product Manager.
In all of these positions I've had to work on ways to solve problems — some more complex than others. In any case, you always have to find a way to get past the symptoms of a problem and to find the root cause.
The 5 Whys
Along the way, I picked up a process called the 5 Why's. In short you simply ask the question "why" five times. Of course there really isn't a magic number; you may get it in 3 or maybe 6. The important thing is that you use this mentality to peel away the layers that encapsulate the problem. Sounds easy enough that a child could do it right?!?
Let's take a look at an example:
Conclusion: We do not have an equipment maintenance schedule… Setting up a proper maintenance schedule helps ensure that packages will never be late again due to faulty equipment. If we just repair the brakes, or even do a one-off check of all the trucks, the problem will happen again at some time in the future.
Keep it Simple!
What makes this process so great is its simplicity. It's a process that every person can apply without difficulty. It also serves to keep you from moving too quickly without fully seeing what you've identified as the true problem.
It Comes with Limitations
There are limitations to this process, and it's not meant to solve more complex problems. It's best if you use the 5 Whys technique along with a range of other approaches. Regardless of the technique you use, make sure you can always back up possible causes with evidence and data to support.
Here are some of the basic reasons why this technique may not always work:
- Participants in the process may not investigate deeply enough in attempting to identify root causes.
- The process may be limited by the knowledge of the person carrying out the technique.
- Different people will often get different answers using this process, which in turn raise questions about its reliability.
The best way to overcome some of these limitations is to properly develop skills to make certain that the process is robust and all participants contribute and investigate each of the possible 'whys'. Think about these questions as well:
In closing, here are some key points to remember: Use 5 Whys to get to the root cause of the problem.
Now, this doesn't mean I still won't pull my hair out when my son asks me "why does he have to brush his teeth," but now I may be better armed to explain to him in more detail WHY it's important — so his teeth don't fall out and so he won't have horrid breath!!
And I also just might be able to help solve a problem or two at the office by taking the time to figure out the 'why' and not just address a symptom.
About the Author:
Richard Perry is CTSI-Global's Product Ninja. His purpose is understanding customer needs, defining product value propositions, working with users, and promoting CTSI-Global Awesomeness!