Why, Why, Why: Root Cause Analysis
When preschoolers ask questions, they want explanations and answers. Have you ever heard a three- to five-year-old ask you why, why, why to everything you tell them? Such as – Why did that happen? Why do you think so? …. and why and why again. Does this drive you crazy? Well, this could teach you a valuable Six Sigma quality lesson. The “Five Whys” is a technique used in Six Sigma DMAIC – a data-driven strategy used to improve business processes.
Is Problem Solving Just Common Sense?
In a paper posted on Maintenance World’s website, Alexander Dunn, Director of Assetivity Properties Ltd., quotes a study which showed, “…that, when trying to prevent unacceptable events from happening again, ten percent of participants immediately sought to place blame, 26 percent immediately expressed an opinion of the causes and offered an opinion without investigating the problem, and only 20 percent of participants examined the problem in sufficient detail to be able to identify an effective solution.” From these statistics, it’s clear that effective problem-solving is far from common sense. When people discover problems, the most frequent response is to rush to find a solution. Finding an immediate fix for the problem is very satisfying no matter how many times this process occurs. Unfortunately, it’s not the best way to solve a problem, as it leads to the need to solve the same problem over and over again. A better approach is to eliminate the root cause.
"Five Whys" in Determining the "Root Cause"
By repeatedly asking the question “Why?” you can peel away the layers of symptoms which can lead to the root cause of a problem. Although this technique is called “Five Whys,” you may find that you will need to ask the question fewer or more times than five before you find the issue related to a problem.
- Write down the specific problem and describe it completely with the details. It helps to review the problem with a team approach;
- Then ask “Why the problem happens?” and write the answer down below the problem;
- If the answer provider doesn’t identify the root cause of the problem identified in step one, ask “Why?” again and write that answer down;
- Look back to step three until the team is in agreement that the problem’s root cause is identified. Again, this may take fewer or more times than five whys.
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