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But. . . why?

You are about to start a project at your company. Before it can officially start, you must follow a process of capturing the relevant artifacts and approvals from the team.

But. . . why?

The “Five Whys”

The five whys are a simple, interrogative technique to try and understand the root cause of things.

The philosophy is right there in the title.

When you are trying to determine the answer at the heart of a decision or topic, ask the question “Why” five times.

Example)

The production launch of the application went badly.

WHY?

The database connection to the application failed.

WHY?

We installed a patch to the database yesterday which caused an unforeseen issue.

WHY?

We had to install the patch yesterday because the existing version was End of Life (EOL) as of yesterday and did not have time to test as a result.

WHY?

We only just realized that the software was EOL because the vendor sent us an email when they realized that we were still using the older version.

WHY?

We didn’t have a pro-active solution for identifying when we need to install patches.

In this example, you see that “The production launch of the application went badly” because “We didn’t have a pro-active solution for identifying when we need to install patches.

“Five Whys” in process improvement and resolving impediments

The value of the “five whys” is in its simplicity and consolidation of problems to resolve.

In my years of employing this interrogative process, I have found that many problems in an organization or in a given area of an organization boil down to a few core issues.

In the above example, instead of floundering around on the given database or the given patch, you understand that the infrastructure team needs to set up more proactive loops for end of life systems.

“Five Whys” as justification or push back

The other place you can use the five whys is in justification or push back.

Example)

We need to work with this person for approval on the project.

WHY?

We need this person to approve any projects that are at least $500,000, and this project is over $500,000.

WHY?

We have done this type of work before and generally know the effort. Since it is large effort, we need to justify the cost for the amount of resources projects of that size will take.

WHY?

We have a limited number of resources for this type of project and have more project work than resources.

WHY?

There is a massive ebb and flow to the amount of projects the team will have in the backlog in any given time, so we have to be practical when we do have too much work.

WHY?

The industry we work with has certain cycles when they get budgets to do the work they need us to do.

In the above example, we determine that the reason we need to work with a stakeholder for approval is because of the cycle of budgets and projects that we get as a team.

This does two things. It better justifies why we follow this process (sensible business decision making) and also flags a potential impediment (predictable, but painful cycles of the business).

With this knowledge, you could think outside the box on problem solving.

  • Maybe you hire fewer people and reinforce it with consultants during the times of the year that are tougher.
  • Maybe you incentivize businesses to work with you during other seasons with discounts if they work with you at different times.

Try using the five whys in your day-to-day work life!

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