Ask and you shall receive. Hmm. I'm not sure how true this is, but if you don't ask, you're unlikely to learn much. And this is the topic of our Lean tool this month.
The Root Cause Analysis can sound like a complex task just based on the name itself. But it doesn't have to be. For Kaizen events or any team-based process improvement activity, the 5 Why's can be a quick and effective method for determine the root cause of many problems.
But first, a small diversion. In 1987 I worked for a ship building company that designed the Staten Island ferries. As a summer intern, I was given the unenviable task of determining the causes of "green seas." In the ship building industry, green seas are a major design consideration. If you've ever watched Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch, you may know what I'm talking about.
Green seas is solid water breaking over the bow of a ship. In the nautical world, this is bad and ship designers spend a great deal of time and money designing ships for specific regions of the world that avoid allowing green seas over the bow. My job for 10 weeks at $10 an hour was to do a fault tree analysis of the design conditions that allow green seas to occur. With an understanding of these root causes, efforts could be made to prevent green seas. The fault tree analysis is a tedious and complicated method for finding root causes. It was developed by engineers and scientists to prevent intolerable faults in such applications as nuclear power plants.
Too complicated for a small team at a printing plant looking to prevent scumming on a particular stock.
The Wii Game Console
In come the 5 Why’s. I love this approach because it is so effective and quite straight forward to facilitate. The approach is quite simple. Take your problem, defect or situation and ask Why five times.
Why are there no Wii consoles left for my childrens’ Christmas gift? I got to the stores too late.
Why did I get to the stores too late? I worked through the last two weekends.
Why did I work through the last two weekends? I was approaching a deadline to get Lean on Print mailed.
Why was I approaching this deadline? The deadline was moved up in the month due to the Holidays.
Why was the deadline moved up? No one will read Lean on Print Christmas morning.
So a potential root cause for not being able to get a Wii game console today is because my readers won’t read Lean on Print Christmas morning. Is there anything I can do about it now? No, but next year perhaps I will consider either postponing Lean on Print until after the holidays, or better manage my time before the holidays.
The 5 Why’s can be extremely effective in determining root causes. Try going down different paths in your questioning. As facilitator, it is up to you to manage the process to generate viable results. Give it a try at your next opportunity and report back on my blog.