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Senior Correspondent

Why? Drilling For the Root Cause

Why? Drilling For the Root Cause

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We have long been proponents of the "five Whys" methodology to get to the root cause of a problem relatively quickly.

This simple, yet effective method of digging beneath the surface was made popular in the 1970s by the Toyota Production System and is used the world over. Once we get to the root cause of a problem, how to solve the problem usually reveals itself.

For example, our problem may be an unhappy client. So we ask, what's causing our client to be unhappy? We discover it is because we are frequently missing shipping dates. Why? We discover that we are underestimating the complexity of their jobs. Why? Because we tend to make quick estimates of time required without detailing each specific step involved. Why? Because we deviated from our reliable estimation process last year when we had fewer customers with large repetitive orders.

Voila! We can stop asking why. The solution becomes obvious. Let's go back to following our reliable estimation process. Had we tackled the problem before drilling down, we might have implemented an unsustainable or superficial solution.

I was recently introduced to a whole new way of using the five Whys. I learned that when we are crystal clear about why something is important to us, our Why becomes our fuel to get it done. Our actions become clear and intentional. Clarity in purpose fuels our sure success.    

So, when you are having difficulty accomplishing something important and you feel stuck and frustrated, consider taking a few minutes to call a little five-Whys meeting with yourself. Your five-Whys meeting agenda may go something like this: 

  1. Define exactly what you want to accomplish.
  2. Ask yourself why that accomplishment is important to you.
  3. Once you are clear why the accomplishment is important, then continue asking why until you drill all the way down to your essential why. 

For example, I am frustrated because all the clothes in my closet seem to have shrunk at the same time, and my full-scale denial about the cause just hasn't worked. I realize it must be the extra seven pounds I picked up over the rainy spring. I really need to shed those pounds.

Why is shedding those seven pounds important to me? I want to fit into my clothes comfortably. Why is that important to me? I want to look and feel my best each day so that I can give my best in everything I do. Why is that important to me? I want to experience and model optimum health.

Once I am able to get to the root of my motivation, I am properly inspired. It's simply a matter of choosing how to go about doing this. I choose Weight Watchers online, focusing on eating lots of fruits and vegetables, eliminating processed foods and drinking plenty of water. I'm pretty sure this method will provide the structure I need and help me create a sustainable outcome.

When we go straight to the How without clarity about our Why, we can be making the accomplishment harder than it needs to be.

It turns out that getting down to the essential and shared Why is extremely helpful in organizations as well. We encounter unnecessary resistance when folks do not understand why. Once we are clear about our Why, the How will magically show up and our efforts will be inspired by our Why. It's as good as done.   

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