This is the first article in a series, focusing on tools and techniques that help people to problem solve in thinking and decision making.
We don’t often think about the tools we use to make decisions with, nor whether our thinking processes are useful and effective. We make a huge assumption that we know how to think and if we allow ourselves to do so, we shall be able to decide what is best.
Research has shown that there are many ways to structure thinking so that we can follow different processes that can lead us to fast and effective results. We want to introduce you to some of the most powerful tools available today.
Firstly, we are focusing upon the “The Five Why’s” framework.
What is The “Five Why’s”?
Ever had a problem that persisted despite numerous efforts to solve it? Sooner or later it would resurface, perhaps in a slightly different format. Recurrent problems are often symptoms of deeper unaddressed issues. A convenient solution may only be addressing the symptoms but may only solve part of the real problem.
To solve the problem finally and effectively you need to drill down, through the layers of obvious symptoms to locate the problem’s underlying root causes. This is where the ‘The Five Why’s’ question asking technique is useful for getting to the root of a problem quickly and comprehensively. Getting at root causes is not easy, and this method is not foolproof, but it is a profound and useful tool.
This technique was originally developed by Japanese inventor and industrialist Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of the Toyota Motor Company. He is considered one of the greatest if not the greatest inventor of modern Japan and the father of Japanese industrialization. Toyota still uses this approach to solve problems today.
How it’s done
1. Assemble a small team (or complete this by yourself if you can drill down into the root cause effectively by yourself). It’s normally best with several people as no one person can think widely or differently enough.
2. Identify the problem you need to solve e.g. slow turnaround time, inconsistent skills, rota conflicts etc.
3. Ask the first Why – e.g. Why do we have inconsistent skills? Brainstorm all the possible reasons for this issue e.g. lack of time to do training. Beware of a single answer – go for breadth of ideas
4. Ask the next Why. For each of the reasons identified in step 3 ask ‘why is this happening?’ For example, why do we not have enough time to do training? – Because we have staff shortages and we are struggling to cover the staff rota.
5. Ask the third why, against each of the previous answers.
6. Repeat this process until you have asked ‘Why’ at least five times and until you are confident you have identified the root cause and cannot proceed further. Typically the root cause is considerably removed from the symptomatic way that the problem initially appeared. At this point, an appropriate solution should be evident.
7. Identify actions to address root causes identified and implement the improvements.
How it helps
It helps to ensure that the team comes to solutions that most accurately can correct the root cause of the problem and ensure that it doesn’t re-occur. It creates thorough, complete solutions.
In team or group situations, it helps to ensure that members of a team share their understanding of the problem and share the process of drilling down to root causes, as it increases the collective intelligence of similar challenges and potential solutions in future.
The Five Why’s helps a person or team to tackle the root causes of a problem instead of the presenting symptoms. Use The Five Whys for troubleshooting, quality improvement and problem solving, but it is best for simple or moderately difficult problems. So, whenever a system or process isn’t working properly, try it before you embark on a more in-depth approach.