Why is WHY the Perfect question? Most parents remember those persistent questions from their 3-year-old, i.e., “WHY is the sky blue?”… “WHY can’t frogs fly?”…etc. You give the child your best off-the-cuff answer, and with a puzzled look they quickly ask, “WHY?” So, you take another crack at it, and again you hear, “WHY?” Your final answer? “JUST BECAUSE!”
However, that answer doesn’t “fly” in BUSINESS!
When searching for an issues/errors root cause in business, the perfect question is also “WHY?” In fact, professionals of Lean, Six Sigma, also the Toyota Production System, recognize what any 3-year-old instinctively knows. That is… to find the REAL reason for a problem or error… again, the perfect question is “WHY?”.
That’s how a 3-year-old learns, and it’s also how management gets to the bottom of problems. Truth is, without rooting out the truth of WHY errors and other problems occur in business, fixing them permanently is impossible, prompting another question, “WHAT HAPPENED?
Why Five Times?
As a rule-of-thumb, business professionals who solve problems by administering Corrective and Preventive Actions agree that asking the question WHY, five times, reveals the root cause of most issues. In other words, keep asking WHY, until arriving at the real truth about any non-conformance.
We suggest you TRY IT! You may be surprised what comes to light at the end of your questioning.
Example of Asking Why for Root Cause
Problem: The production manager discovers Sam the Lead Tech left an expensive Air-dryer at his last job-site. In fact, the Air-dryer wasn’t discovered missing until it was needed on another job.
Whereby, the frustrated owner schedules a meeting with the Lead Tech who left the Air-dryer, to determine the reason. In short, WHY?
- Owner: “Sam, WHY did you leave the Air-dryer at the job-site?”
Lead Tech’s Answer: “I told a crew-member to make sure to pick up ALL our equipment and load the truck.”
- Owner: “Since the job-site pickup is your responsibility, WHY didn’t you check behind the crew-member to ensure the removal of all equipment from the Job-site?”
Lead Tech’s Answer: “I got busy checking other things, and assumed Pete got it.”
- Owner: “Sam, again, since the cleanup and equipment pickup on the job-site is your responsibility, WHY did you leave it to Pete?”
Lead Tech’s Answer: “I guess I just FORGOT!”
- Owner: “Okay, I hear you… but WHY did you forget? Sam, these air-dryers are very expensive!”
Lead Tech’s Answer: “As a lead tech, I have a lot of considerations to deal with before leaving the job, so being ‘human’ I forgot.”
I think you get the point. However, the root cause in this case was determined by only asking the Lead-tech WHY four times.
Believe me, having years of experience finding ROOT CAUSES for business issues, I can tell you, the No. 1 reason for errors and other screw-ups is, FORGETTING.
More surprising is, FORGETTING is the easiest thing to FIX in a business! But for some strange reason, it goes unaddressed. In fact, employee’s excuses, like “I forgot,” are often excused by management; especially, when someone throws down the “I’m only human” card.
Interestingly, the explanation for human forgetting, is the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve.
However, the FIX for this ancient human condition is not excusing it, but employing SYSTEMS that never forget!
Did I mention, great systems work and are the final answer for WHY!
[Reminds me of a song I co-wrote back in the 1980’s… WHY, OH, WHY… thought it might make your day!?]