Understanding where problems (and opportunities) have come from

If you can understand the conditions which caused a problem to develop or an opportunity to come along, then you’ll be able to think about how you can replicate those conditions (for opportunities), or change them (for problems). For example, if you realise that an opportunity presented itself which you were only able to take advantage of because of your proactive recruitment strategy, you’ll want to continue that strategy in the future.

5 Whys
The 5 Whys technique encourages you to look not at superficial causes, but to look deeper for root causes. For example, imagine you’re waiting for a train and an announcement comes over the loudspeaker saying:

“Your train is delayed due to the late arrival of a preceding service.”

You likely find this frustrating because it’s not a real reason for the delay – you want to know why the preceding service was running late.

The idea with 5 Whys is that you keep asking “why?” until it feels like a daft question. This is likely to be around 5 times. The root cause analysis might then look something like this…

1.    Your train is late because of the late arrival of a preceding service
2.    The preceding service was delayed due to leaves on the line
3.    There were leaves on the line because they hadn’t been cleared properly the night before
4.    They hadn’t been cleared because the equipment had broken down
5.    The equipment broke down because it hadn’t been services at the prescribed intervals

So what’s the conclusion here? Failing to service leaf-clearing machines causes delays to trains. And that’s what 5 Whys is all about.

Ishikawa diagram
The 5 Whys technique is a great tool to look more deeply at the root causes of problems, but it has a drawback: it tends to lead you along a route to identify only one root cause. In fact, there could be multiple causes to be addressed for the future, both for problems and opportunities.

An Ishikawa diagram helps to expand the view of root causes.
You can populate the “bones” of the fish with a selection of Ps:

•    People
•    Parts
•    Product
•    Plant
•    Parameter
•    Place
•    Process
•    Price

And you’re not limited to just one level on each bone – if you combine this with the 5 Whys concept, then you can achieve a very comprehensive insight into where problems and opportunities come from.

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