Root Cause and the Five Whys

BY IT GLUE | June 13, 2016

Here at IT Glue™ we pride ourselves on having great processes. These are processes that we have documented, reviewed and that all of our team can access. Despite all these best laid plans, things still go wrong!  When this happens it is important for us to know what happened.

“Having no problems is the biggest problem of all.” Taiichi Ohno (Toyota).

Here at IT Glue we see these “problems” not as a negative, but as a “kaizen (continuous improvement)”, a great opportunity in disguise! This is where we like to use the 5 Whys.

The 5 Whys was born out of the Toyota Production System and is an an iterative interrogative technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. It had become a popular technique used in many businesses due in part to the mention of it in The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. 

What are the key benefits of the 5 Whys?

At IT Glue what we love about the 5 Whys is that they;

  • Help identify the root cause of a problem.
  • Help to determine the relationship between different root causes of a problem.
  • They are one of the simplest tools you can use as they don’t require any complex statistical analysis.

When are the 5 Whys most useful?

In our experience, and in line with SixSigma’s thinking, the 5 Whys work best when;

  • The problems involve human factors or interactions – so problems around our staff or our partners.
  • In day-to-day operations
  • We have used them in a number of areas like Development, Partner Success, Sales and Marketing

What are the main steps in doing a 5 Whys analysis?

  1. Invite those affected by the problem. These will be the people with personal knowledge of the processes and systems involved in the problem being discussed.
  2. Choose a team facilitator who will be responsible for asking why the problem happened and recording the team’s responses. They will also be responsible for assigning responsibility for the solutions.
  3. Ask “Why” 5 times. This means that on any problem you delve at least 5 layers deep into it.
  4. For each why there will be answer. The team needs to come up with corrective actions at each level and assign them to team members.
  5. Email the whole team the response. The reason behind this is nicely summed up by Eric Ries 

“The advantage of sharing this information widely is that it gives everyone insight into the kinds of problems the team is facing, but also insight into how those problems are being tackled. And if the analysis is airtight, it makes it pretty easy for everyone to understand why the team is taking some time out to invest in problem prevention instead of new features.”

The 5 Whys in action at IT Glue

Here is an example of where the 5 Whys were put into use at IT Glue to identify a process improvement opportunity. 

  1. We missed a delivery release deadline. Why? Because the code was still in testing.
  2. Why was the code in testing? Because the junior developers were not allowed to push any code to the live system.
  3. Why could junior developers not push code to the live system? The head developer was not sure the code had been thoroughly tested.
  4. Why did the head developer not think that code was being thoroughly tested? The head developer did not have the time to check all the training of new developers and the Q/A process was not rigorously defined.
  5. Why were the training records not up to date and why was there not a defined Q/A process? There was no one at IT Glue responsible for owning these processes.

What began as a purely operational issue was quickly revealed to be a managerial issue. We recognized that as a fast growing business if we were to deliver and meet our ambitious goals we needed to have the talent in place to assist us. This has lead to us recruiting a People and Culture Manager to focus on our teams training and development. We also have a dedicated Q/A tester as part of our development team.

Using IT Glue we are creating a rigorous training program, that allows us to get new staff members productive on their very first day of work. We are constantly making incremental improvements to our process to insure that we continue to improve. These improvements continue to free up time and reduce waste in our organization, helping us with Freeing the Minds of the #GlueCrew 

What is the 5 Whys?

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