Problem Solving

The Business91 podcast that featured Tracey Richardson and her discussion on Problem Solving was one of my top viewed podcasts this year. One of the topics we covered was the 5 Y process. I asked the question:Letter "Y" girl

Joe: One of the great tools of Lean is the “Five Whys” to get to root cause. Can you explain why you don’t use three whys, five whys, seven whys? I mean how did they come up with the five whys and what’s that really mean?

Tracey: Right. And it’s funny you say that because when I first started in my career at Toyota, everybody was like; “You got to have five whys!” My first question was, “Well, what if it’s only two or what if it’s three? What if you start asking too many times?” So that was one of my first questions, too, and how it was explained to me is that it’s not about five or two or 10. It’s about the thought process behind your thinking. Are you asking why? Do you need to go deeper? Do you need to go even deeper when you’re asking why?

Because most of the time symptoms are at the surface, and the root cause is normally below the surface. That’s getting into the design of the work, into the process, into the specific standardized work steps that folks are doing out there on a daily basis.

Keep asking why allows you to get deeper other than just “Oh, I’ve got to solve this today. I’ve got to hurry up and get the answer so I can make my boss happy.” That “five why” allows you to get into the work, and that’s where the answers are is in that work.

I’ve had many A3s, hundreds of A3s to where they will vary. I might have only two whys, to where I get down to the actual root cause by just asking two. Or I’ve got examples where I’ve had 10 and the thing that you want to be aware of is if you ask why too many times, then it changes the scope of the problem.

I have several examples in class and one of them kind of talks about the alarm clock going off. Well I can ask why. Well the power went out. Well why did the power go out? Well there was a storm. Well why was there a storm? If you keep asking why, you’re getting into things that you can’t control.

We try to say OK, where is it within the chain, the why chain that I can control that an effective counter measure will address that root cause and all the symptoms or all the whys up the chain that lead you back to the problem.

You don’t want to go too far, because again it gets you out of the control and it changes the scope of the problem. Because if you get in asking about storms and the clouds not liking each other up in the atmosphere, then you’re counter measuring something that has nothing to do with your problem. That’s when you do the why down test and the therefore back up through the chain to establish that cause and effect relationship.

I thought Tracey did a great job of explaining how many Y’s to use but what about using The Power of 3? I ran across this thread on LinkedIn that was discussing philosopher Joseph Campbell who spent a lifetime studying cross cultural storytelling reaching the conclusion that we’re programmed to think in 3s:

It underpins our Romantic tradition, the basis of most storytelling where there are usually three phases to a story; three wishes are granted; the hero usually tries something three times and succeeds on the third etc. Some great examples of the power of three?

  • Father, son,. holy ghost
  • Observation, Imagination, Configuration
  • Mother, Father, Child
  • Analysis, Process, Results
  • Design, Operation, Maintenance Mind, Body, Spirit
  • Create, Destruct, Sustain
  • Good, Better, Best
  • Dream, Believe, Achieve

So, should we just have 3 Y’s? I recently completed an interview with two Jonah’s, James Clark and John Schleier authors of the upcoming book, Theory of Constraints Handbook. and we spent a good portion of the interview discussing the TOC Thinking Process. I have shied away from it in the past because I felt it was to difficult to teach and the problem was more than likely that I never simplified it enough not only for my clients but myself. The Power of 3 – could very well equal the 3 Thinking processes of TOC: The Conflict Cloud, The Branch and The Target Tree. Using all three of these together is very powerful and can provide a very solid foundation for you problem solving. A brief overview of each:

The Conflict Tree: Defines and examines the problem and come out with an alternative idea to an invalid assumption.

The Branch: Checks the idea and helps identify future problems associated with the new idea.

The Target Tree: Maps the action steps needed to implement the idea.

I always wondered why the TOC Thinking Process was never used or achieved the popularity that maybe it deserves. The two Jonah’s informed me otherwise and named some of the uses of the Thinking Process such as: Schools, Juvenile Centers, Prisons, Healthcare and College Courses. The reasons they feel that is it is such a powerful tool is that it addresses cause and effect so well. Usage of the TOC Thinking Tools goes much deeper than this. However, the foundation of this process is in this simple 3-step process. The Power of 3 in action.