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#164: Ask An Important Question

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, October 29, 2009
Updated: Thursday, October 29, 2009
As consultants, we tend to ask a lot of questions. But one simple inquiry, asked multiple times, can often help you uncover significant insight into the root cause to a complex problem - Why?

Professionals in the Quality Improvement field have often used a technique referred to as "The Five Whys". This technique has been most frequently attributed to Taiichi Ohno, widely identified as the founder of Toyota Production System. This method allows the questioner to dig past the "symptom" layers in order to get to the actual root of a problem. This simple methodology also helps the practitioner to "link" the root problem to its components.

Here's an example:

Customer e-mail complaints are taking too long to be responded to. Why?Our Customer Service team does not seem to be able to meet the volume of complaints. Why?There has been a marked increase in the number of complaints received in the last 3 months. Why?There was a product problem in our most popular product and customers began calling in droves to complain. Why?Manufacturing has not been able to determine why the problem is occurring. They have not yet provided our service representatives with instructions on how to handle the calls from our existing customers.

Obviously, the questioning could continue (or even take far fewer iterations), but asking "Why?" five times will usually provide sufficient insight into the root of the problem.

Tip: Although the technique of asking some variation of the question "Why?" multiple times to get at the root of the problem seems to be an overly simplistic approach to a serious issue, it is deceptively powerful. Give it a try!

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process 

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