Aim Your 5 Why Well!

[tweetmeme source=”leanisgood” service=”” only_single=false]We’ve all heard the saying “guns don’t shoot people; people who pull the trigger shoot people.”  Regardless of which side of the gun control argument you may be on, the same also holds true for 5 why problem solving!  Has anyone in your organization pointed to a 5 why and told you they don’t work here or in this business?  I’m here to tell you that they work wonderfully well within the proper situation and with proper training, kind of like guns!  It’s very easy to aim a 5 why poorly and give them a bad reputation in your organization.

A couple of 5 why mistakes that I see and make myself are 1) guessing as to the next why, 2)  mixing the problem deviation and system problem chains, and 3) implementing a solution around the symptom and not the root cause.

The first item is obviously apparent as to the problems it creates.  When one guesses as the the next why answer, the odds are the five why will not actually address the root cause of the problem.  This loads the gun for the anti 5 why crowd!  As leaders, we must remember to ask the right questions around each step assuring the proper answer was investigated and is relatively correct.  We must also not pressure people to have a “completed 5 why on my desk by 5:00.”  It’s more important to have a good five why that is done slower than a poor 5 why done quickly!

The second problem, mixing the problem chains, develops because there is always three different 5 whys that can be completed for most any problem experienced and they can be easily intertwined.  The first is “Why did the actual deviation from standard occur?”  An example would be “Why did the mirror fall off the vehicle?”  The second is “Why didn’t our quality systems detect the problem?”  The third possible 5 why is “Why didn’t our systems prevent the problem?”  I have seen many 5 whys that jumped from the deviation of why did the mirror fall off and magically shift and find root cause to why we didn’t detect it!   The root causes of these two problems are usually completely different!

The third mistake that I see commonly is when the countermeasure addresses a symptom of the problem or a process that is does not add value.  An example of this might be that we have to extend cure times on a molded item because the mold is too cool when the process is started.  A countermeasure of an elaborate  mold pre-heater might be suggested.  When we have a cold mold it can be corrected to the required temperature and not extend cure times.  However, as a leader, if you asked some more questions and go and see the problem yourself, you might find that the reason the molds are cooler than spec is because they missed the previous cure.  There was no product ready to cure in them so they sat and cooled off!  Yes, we could spend money on an elaborate pre-heater to get the molds to temperature, but shouldn’t we work on the real problem of why we didn’t have product t0 cure in the mold during in its regular cycle and it cooled off?

The preheater, while sounding like a good countermeasure, is just a band aid and actually will add waste to the process.  We really need to spend our time and money upstream to make the product delivery more reliable so we don’t have to preheat in the first place!

So as leaders in change, we need to drive to root cause and permanently fix the problems.  But beware, you just can’t throw out an hour of 5 why training and expect outstanding results!  Teach, train, and aim your 5 whys well.  Otherwise you will spend more time defending and  justifying how great the tool is instead of actually fixing problems with it!



4 Responses

  1. […] – cosa dovrebbe accadere, cosa accade, quale è la differenza… (traduzione automatica)Aim Your 5 Why Well! dal blog Lean is Good di Bryan Ziegler: Quali sono i tre motivi principali perché il metodo delle […]

  2. […] underway: Link 2. Yet another great post from ALeanJourney: Link 3. Aim your 5 Why’s well: Link 4. The lean equation from ALeanJourney: Link 5. A nice post from Business901 on the best way to go […]

  3. Bryan,

    Thanks for sharing your insights on 5-Whys. Like many tools, they are not helpful is they are not used properly. I have 3 articles on 5-Whys on my blog. Here’s the first:


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