Why. It’s Not Just For Children Anymore

In almost any kind of process improvement, there is a powerful tool called the Five Whys. Any parent to tell you just how incredibly deep this tool can dig when a child asks “why” over and over and over again. And often ends with the parent wracking their brain or gets to the point where they just don’t know.  At point often comes the answer of “because”.

If there is going to be a true and beneficial improvement to a process, “because” is not good enough. But the Five Whys force us to push past that.  And it is really simple to use.  Just keep asking “why” until you get to the root of the problem.

For example, sometimes a manager’s approval is needed for certain actions. The teams I have worked with have discovered several processes where the managers signature serves no purpose.  We got to the root of the requirements by asking why. Here is a generic and made up example.

  1. Why does the manager have to approve this?  Because this is the risk to the organization.
  2. Why is the rest of the organization? If authorization is given incorrectly than were at risk for losing money.
  3. Why are we lose this for losing money? We are at risk of losing money because a customer could falsify another customer’s identification.
  4. Why do we allow that access to that type of customer? After much head scratching the answer is that because of technology changes since this process was implemented, this is no longer a risk.

The answer was arrived at in four steps.

The simple exercise of asking why, why, why has led us to the root cause of the manager sign off in that process. And now, since everyone has walked through it together, it is easy to remove that step because you already have buy in from all the parties that need to sign off.  And your process just got simpler and faster.  Your customer service just got better.

Don’t limit this tool only to LEAN processes or Kaizen events or work process improvement. This is a very effective tool to use in everyday life. Even at home when sometimes you are mystified as to why you are doing things a certain way, pull out the Five Whys and walk through them. Even better, involve your spouse, friend, parent, or children to help you. You will often find that you suddenly have a better way of doing things that they just made your life easier.

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