It’s All About the Why, the Other Why


Photo by annnna. under Creative Commons Attribution

[tweetmeme source="leanisgood" service=""]

The first thing that many lean practitioners think of when they hear the word ‘why’ is probably 5 why’s and getting to root cause of problems.  That is certainly a powerful tool and a good way to use ‘why’.  Those are the why’s that we don’t know.  As importantly we shouldn’t forget to teach the why’s that we do know.

When we teach people things we need to show the what, show the how and teach the why (these are the three columns of the TWI Job Breakdown Sheet, examples here and here.)  There was a situation in a previous life where an operator had to inspect his work. The product would come out of a vessel hot, and the operator would inspect the product for various defects using a ‘Visual Inspection Standard.’  The standard simply described the various defects.  One of those defects was a bubble of air molded into the product.  The operator learned that if given a few minutes to cool down, many of the bubbles would disappear.  Given that this was a ‘visual’ standard he surmised (not illogically) that if you couldn’t see the bubble then you should pass the product.   Whenever he found a bubble he would give it a few minutes to ‘go away’.  If it went away he would pass the product if it didn’t, he would throw it away.  Turns out that the ‘visual’ standard didn’t have anything to do with aesthetics.   The bubble was really a failure point in the customer’s application.  The operator in this case passed a lot of bad product (with positive intent of course, he was trying to save money).  Nobody took the time to tell him why the bubbles were bad.  No doubt he would have done the right thing if he had the right information.  Mass inspection, poor training, depriving a person of their right to pride in workmanship – a lot stuff that Deming wouldn’t have liked here (points #3, #6, and#12 anyway).

Another situation where sharing the why helps is in deploying a plan.  In the process of policy deployment the why’s should be discussed at length during the catchball process (see Bryan’s post.)  When people understand all the why’s then the implementation can decentralized which leads to better decisions and faster execution.  Even organizations that are presumed to be very top down driven and centralized get this.  The United States Marine Corps calls this ‘why’ commander’s intent.  You are given orders as to what to do with a commander’s intent at the end (usually it follows the words in order to.)  This intent is the purpose of the actions that you are ordered to take.  Following the logic that the act is only taken to fulfill the purpose, the Marine Corps allows subordinates to modify their orders as long they fulfill their commander’s intent.  They don’t actually have to do the ‘what’ as long as they tend to the ‘why.’  This is called initiative and it is praised.  This is from Warfighting which is the defining doctrine of the Marine Corps:

The task denotes what is to be done, and sometimes when and where; the intent explains why. Of the two, the intent is predominant. While a situation may change, making the task obsolete, the intent is more lasting and continues to guide our actions. Understanding the intent of our commander allows us to exercise initiative in harmony with the commander’s desires.

Teaching the intent allows decentralized action by allowing better decisions to be made at levels closer to the gemba.  This speeds up execution and better decisions get made.  Better and faster, that’s nice.  From the same document:

That is, subordinate commanders must make decisions on their own initiative, based on their understanding of their senior’s intent, rather than passing information up the chain of command and waiting for the decision to be passed down. Further, a competent subordinate commander who is at the point of decision will naturally better appreciate the true situation than a senior commander some distance removed.

So when you think of why don’t just think about the why’s that we haven’t figured out yet.  Think about the ones that we know and try to get that information propagated throughout your organization as efficiently as possible.

Semper Fi,


Ed. note – Here is a pretty good post that got me thinking about the importance of the known why’s.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine


2 Responses

  1. […] Read Posts Lean – Keep it SimpleIt's All About the Why, the Other WhyLean Implementation – When to PullHansei and Building 5S – Shadows Boards Are Bad and Reflection is […]

  2. […] like Bruce talking about teaching the why in his previous post, we mustn’t forget to teach the how as well when we find undesirable gemba conditions, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: