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The Five Whys or Bring Your Inner Child to Work

by Margaret

why-toddler148x250There is something that most toddlers do that is a good business practice. They ask ‘Why’. At a certain stage they ask why to just about everything. This is probably preferable to the stage where they say “NO!” to everything. Yet I can see where this gets tiring. It seems that no matter how patient our parents were with us during our ‘Why’ phase we often lose that sense of curiosity. That sense of curiosity can really help guide us. What I am referring to here is a tool referred to as ‘The Five Whys’.

Consider using ‘The Five Whys’ for root cause analysis and also to help really understand the reason behind your project. Let’s take a look:

You and the team know there is a problem, yet the problem could stem from multiple issues. This is a perfect time to start with what you know and work backward to the root cause.

  1. We delivered product to our customer on the due date and we did not go over budget, yet they will not hire us again.

    WHY won’t they hire us again?  

  2. The product we delivered did not meet their expectations.

    WHY didn’t the product meet their expectations?    

  3. The customer states that functionality is missing.

    WHY does the customer state functionality is missing?  

  4. The customer has a requirements list that does not match the list we used.

    WHY does the customer have a requirements list that differs from ours?  

  5. Our initial project manager left the company and there was no clean transition to the new project manager. The new project manager thought he had the right documentation.

    WHY did a change in project manager lead us to use the wrong version of a document?

I am going to stop here because I know you can see how to use this tool. You can also see that sometimes it will take more than five whys and sometimes it will take less than five whys. It is important to keep going until you find the true reasons behind the problem you are analyzing. Of course you may find more than one actionable reason.

You probably already have team members who look at you and say, “And why are we doing this ……?” That is a good thing; they can help you get started. Don’t discourage the why questions. You personally do not have to answer every why. This is a team effort. You can make the why questions fun and part of your team culture. Invite your team to act like kids and question why, why, why, why, WHY?

Or you could hire a toddler as your consultant.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

michel operto April 25, 2013 at 1:51 am

For French readers interested in this method, here is a related post: http://leblogdumanagementdeprojet.com/2010/11/24/la-technique-des-5-pourquoi-the-5-whys/
Michel.

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