Sunday, April 27, 2014

5 Why's and a How

At one of the boards I am on, discussion turned to efficiency.  I suggested the 5 Why's process.  Other board members wanted more information on it and as I was writing the reply email, I thought I would turn it into a blog entry (partly because I am suffering bloggers guilt - the guilt a blogger feels for not posting enough)

The 5 Why's process is time tested and has been in use by hundreds of companies for years.  It is a great and fairly simple way to figure out where companies can gain efficiencies. 

There is lots written about the 5 Why's process on the internet so I will not try to re-explain what it is (basically drilling into things and not accepting the first answer - really trying to figure out the issue). 

The 5 why's process is done by someone sitting with each employee and asking/seeing what they do and why.

The value I thought I could add here are some of my experiences on what outcomes are discovered by using the 5 Why's process:

1 - Training gaps.  Often the process uncovers that staff need more or better training.

2 - Don't Do.  Often people are doing things that no longer need to be done.  These are often rooted in something that happened in the past or something that has changed since the process was implemented.  For example, in my personal situation, I stopped keeping and filing bank statements about 4-5 years ago.  When I first implemented the process, online records were not the norm that they are now.

3 - Interaction Friction.  Often slowness and inefficiencies happen at the point of pass off or interaction with another person or department.  Eliminating these points and figuring out how to make them smoother can add efficiency.

4 - IT Systems.  Often efficiency is limited by IT.  People wait for the system or can only do part of what they need.  Often small tweaks by IT can save hours.

5 - Tools.  Often the process discovers simple tools that can greatly increase productivity.  I recall in our warehouses we implement the use of aprons (like nail aprons) that were stocked with pens, knives, a rag etc - things people used all the time but often did not have at their fingertips.

6 - Areas of research.  Sometimes a process looks cumbersome but no immediate solution is derived.  That is when research kicks in - talk to someone with similar issues, search the internet, tour other operations etc.

The biggest innovation that I add to the process is to not only ask the 5 Why's but to add the How question.  And I like the How question to be fairly big.  EG - if you ask a sales person how they can increase sales by 5%, they do not think of changing process, they just think they will work a bit harder/better.  But ask how to increase 50% and they need to radically rethink what they do.

Adding the How question also helps break "excuses" and false limits.  5 Why's can reinforce beliefs which can be limiting.  EG - in analyzing a shipping line, the 5 why's might determine that only 1,000 parcels per hour can be shipped per hour.  And repeated asking could drive people to really believe they are working as fast and as hard as they can, reinforcing a false belief. 

But ask "How can we ship 1,500 parcels per hour" might elicit creative responses like add a new line or do things differently.

5 Why's and a How is a great way to drive efficiency.