Today’s topic is an important concept that came about as a result of things I noticed concerning WHAT people did and HOW they did it. It’s basically the WHY; you may have heard about the “Five Why’s” that originated from Toyota Motor Company. The WHY is a tool used to drill down to the root cause of a potential problem. There is some criticism of the process, mainly because people don’t execute it very well. The idea is to ask why, then why that, and keep on until there is an ultimate solution. For illustration, here is an example.
- Example 1—Problem: A robot malfunctioned on an assembly line at Toyota.
Why did it stop working? The arm broke.
Why did the arm break? A piece inside broke.
Why did the piece break? It was stressed and not maintained properly.
Why wasn’t it maintained properly? It didn’t receive enough oil.
Why didn’t it receive enough oil? Oiling the part isn’t part of the regular maintenance schedule.
Solution: Lubricating that piece is now part of regular maintenance.
Do you see how it works? You go on and on to the source as you simplify the problem down to an easy fix. The whole process relates to the business world in the area of problem-solving. I’ll share more examples to further illustrate the concept.
Surprisingly, I’ve had calls where someone says, ‘my lights in my house just went our.’ I really want to say, well, so what are you going to do about it as I’m surprised by the question.
I ask them a series of questions. Is it the neighborhood or just your house? Is it the whole house or a part? Ok, it’s just part of the house. Is the circuit overloaded? Ok, you can reset the circuit breaker. But, why did it occur? What can be changed to prevent its recurrence? It turns out that it was a microwave, TV and an iron all being used at the same time. How to fix this and why did it occur? It happens that in the construction phase after the design and electric was installed, they decided to move the microwave. The builder now knows that it can’t do that again unless it changes the circuits.
People often look at what’s happening around them from a landscape view, or as if they were watching a movie. They enjoy what is happening around them, but they don’t understand the underlying causal relationships. In business, this process can be used to prevent/reduce recurring problems and to increase efficiency/productivity.
Even when we look at how kids are raised, we can apply the idea of why we do certain things to raise them. If it’s done too much on emotion, then you can overindulge them or pacify them. If your attitude is, as I is often said, ‘to give them all the things I never had.’ Will you achieve the desired end result of preparing kids to survive in the world? Do your methods pass the ‘Why’ test? Will your methods achieve the desired result of preparing them to succeed in life?
One problem we face is that we are apt to “fall in love” with a method we have used or are using to the point that we become biased and prejudiced toward our own ideas. By asking the WHY, we can train our minds in causality and learn to question our own thoughts and ideas.
I faced these problems many times in research, in particular, one at GM Research Labs, was dealer service and customer satisfaction.
A typical example was the customer returns to pick up his car and the car is not ready. Why? The part is not in stock? Why? Are not enough ordered? Are the parts failing too quickly? Is there a problem with the ordering process? Now, here is where people sometimes think this ideas of asking why doesn’t work. They quickly concluded only one of those 3 choices and start drilling down further and ‘fix’ the wrong issue. So, it isn’t the system that failed, it is that they didn’t first look at all alternatives before proceeding.
Sometimes, the temptation is to jump down to the basic WHY without investigating each level of WHY’s. So, remember, you have to look at all the factors and alternatives, and solve the problems deeper and deeper so that the problem doesn’t continue to come up.
Now, it is not only the solving of problems, but if you are asking these questions, you will also be prepared as you are faced with decisions. For example, when you see a doctor, you might get a better or more appropriate treatment. Now, the doctor is the expert, but you can certainly assist in the ‘choices’ of treatments.
When I was in graduate school, I broke the top of the fibula in the knee joint. He started of asking me specific questions about the career I was pursuing and found out I would be sitting at a desk a lot. Then he started to draw conclusion about the amount of flexibility I would need in the future. I quickly let him know what was important to me in my life and future. He found out I intended to continue pursuing aggressive downhill skiing and weightlifting and other active sports. I helped him choose a different treatment that so I would continue those activities. If I didn’t asked the questions, then he would’ve settled on a different plan, and my abilities would have been limited.
I hope you can see that this process can be used for problem-solving in many ways: in business, sales, customer service, relationships, medical treatments, and virtually every area of life. Don’t forget to ask the WHY’s! I look forward to having you back for my next episode!