A couple days ago I was reminded of a problem solving aspect I hadn’t personally dealt with in a while. I guess being engaged in other things, I kind of forget one of the fundamental questions in problem solving.
By now there probably aren’t a lot of people unaware of 5-Whys. But, what about the 2 Whys? No this isn’t an attempt to be clever by turning 5-S into 8-S or “8 Minute Abs” in to “7 Minute Abs”. It comes down to addressing the two fundamental paths of how defectives get to the customer. “Why Make?” and “Why Ship?”. In simple terms, “Why Make” is pretty self explanatory in terms of understanding why the defect was produced in the first place. “Why Ship?” becomes a much more nuanced question about why defects were allowed to be passed along to the customer (internal or external). It brings along questions about how you build quality at the source or at the least how you detect it and prevent it from being shipped.
I used to get these questions asked all the time by a friend who worked in Quality at Toyota. I guess back then, much like now, I spent much more time on the “Why Make?” question than on the “Why Ship?” one. Part of that is that I work in a different industry where product is less likely to be shipped anyway. The other big part of it is that I just find it much more interesting to chase the kind of problems that follow “Why Make?” questions. That is kind of unfortunate because looking in to why your systems didn’t prevent, detect, or reject bad stuff sometimes offers some holistic views of the operation that you may not always see. It was kind of fun to have the reminder to ask “Why Ship?” more often.
Hopefully this can be a little kickstart for those who hadn’t heard that or a reminder for those of you who may have put that on the back burner.
The 5 Whys is a common talked about problem solving method that is taught. The quick explanation is to keep asking why until you get to the root cause. It seems simple and straight forward, right?
Then when it is tried people start to see it isn’t as easy as it may seem. The hardest part people have is knowing when to stop asking why. Five id just a suggestion to drive home the point to dig deep.
A rule of thumb I like to use, is to keep asking why until the conversation gets uncomfortable. This isn’t easy because the other person may get upset with not knowing the answer and start to get upset with you or you may have to start asking tough questions that cross into uncharted waters.
Why do I do this? Because that is the point where the real learning starts to take place for the person asking the questions AND the person trying to answer the questions.
If the person knows the answer right off the top of their head, that seems to superficial and could have or should have been fixed already. That doesn’t seem like a root cause (although it could be). Digging to a point where the conversation gets uncomfortable surfaces deep rooted issues that can drive bigger and/or better change.
Learning is the key to problem solving so don’t stop asking why until you have gotten deep enough to cause some level of uncomfortableness. That is where you will find the root cause.