Friday, July 09, 2010

Five whys and modern life

One of the more popular ways of resolving quality issues in manufacturing is called the "five whys" worksheet.  More or less, you start with your problem, and then ask "why did that happen?" up to five times to arrive at root causes on the shop floor, in design, and in quality control.  Inherent in the concept is that the problem will have partial solutions in all three areas, and that the initial "blamestorming" session will not generally get to the root of the problem.  Often, you find that the problem you're trying to solve isn't even your biggest problem.  For example:

Problem; the grass is long.
Why? No one mowed it.
Why? Junior slept the day away instead of mowing the lawn.
Why? Junior is recovering from the plague.
Why? Junior got it from a rat living at his school.
Why? The janitors can't be bothered to take out the garbage.

All too often, we simply blame the one who failed to mow the lawn without investigating the motivations of that person, and as a result, rhetorically speaking, we give Junior a whipping instead of finding a new janitor who will take out the trash.  For example, when bankers are blamed for making bad loans without investigating the incentives that Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the CRA created for them.

If you want good government and a good life, try and figure out who is reacting versus who actually tries to understand a situation.

1 comment:

pentamom said...

Interesting. I never knew about the five whys, even though hubby had functional responsibility for quality until, thankfully, they ponied up to actually create a separate position for it. It could be that he just never mentioned it to me. It sounds like it could have a million applications -- even in parenting!

And, I like your specific application of it.