Just Ask Why

By Dave Favor, The Wise OwlBack in my corporate days I learned to ask “Why” three to five times in order to discover the root cause of a problem.  As I recall, this technique was originally developed by the Toyota Motor Corporation during for their manufacturing division.  So, when a law firm said they had trouble with staff not getting mail out, I suggested they ask why.  In practice, you should ask why until you discover the failing process.

The first problem was a focus on who failed.  It is rarely a who that we are looking for; it is almost always a process or a policy.  So I introduced the idea that people do not fail; processes do.  That was amended to be process or policy.  Once we started to focus on processes, we started to make progress understanding the root cause. Here is an example of how it went.

Q: Why didn’t you get the contract mailed?

A: I did not get the contract printed on time.

Q: Why didn’t you get the contract printed on time?

A: The printer was out of paper.

Q: Why was the printer out of paper?

A: Nobody is assigned to load paper.

Q: Why was nobody assigned to load paper?

A: There is no job position or process to maintain the printer

Now we can have all kinds of discussions about who should have done what but the bottom line was that nobody was assigned the task.  As soon as the person sitting next to the printer was assigned the task to make sure the printer was working, the people upstairs got faster printing.

Sometimes what you discover is just common sense and the solution is simple.  Since we started the “just ask why” campaign many of the processes have been updated and improved.  Another interesting result was that finger pointing to individuals stopped.  Try it sometime the next time the results you get are not what you expected.

Dave Favor is the President and principal in Catalyst Group, Inc.  He brings to the table over 50 years high-level business and management experience, including time at IBM and as a private consultant to major Fortune 500 companies. Dave’s experience allows him to bring to the table a way of running a business that small business and law firms can strategically leverage. A teacher of self-mastery, leadership, and business principles, he is a believer in value-based living and working.  Catalyst Group, Inc. is located in Raleigh, North Carolina and is known for its mentoring of small businesses and law firms.