The Five Why’s

Because we are all human, there is no avoiding the fact that in any course of action there is the scope for mistakes to be made, or for imperfect delivery to slow the completion of a job. The fact that this will happen is no excuse, however, for just putting it down to experience and accepting that the work will be in some way imperfect. the time of action of learning from our mistakes is something we apply to everyday life, and there is every reason that it should carry over into our working practices. Without an evaluation of why something went wrong, that thing will go wrong again as its root cause will be ignored.

The “Five Why’s” is a course of action that is designed to finding the inner reason for mistakes and imperfections. It helps to think of problems as being like onions – they are multi-layered. The end problem which makes any course of action stop or at the minimum slow down may seem like a simple one. But in asking why it occurred, we should not take the first answer as the definitive one. Asking “Why?” five times is often a good way of discovering inner causes.

It helps to use an example – in this case, we will use the example of someone being late for work. The first question – “why was I late?” may have a one line answer, but that answer might present more questions as a consequence.

So, why was I late for work? I missed the bus.

Why did I miss the bus? Because I spent twenty minutes looking for my wallet.

Why did I have to look for my wallet? Because it wasn’t where I usually leave it.

Why wasn’t it where I usually leave it? Because I had to use my credit card last night.

Why did I have to use my credit card last night? Because I had to pay my electricity bill over the phone.

This is a contrived example, of course. But in the above example I was late for work because I had not paid my electricity bill on time. If you can deal with a problem in the early stages, you can prevent other, more visible problems from derailing a project. So when it comes to discovering causes, keep asking why until you find the root cause.

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