But… why?

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

As a kid who grew up in the 90s in a small town, in a former communist country, childhood was awesome. My main daily tasks were doing homework, enjoying Terminator 2 (both the movie and the gaming console) and playing outside until the sun went down. Tasks also included helping my parents around, with chores, because working 3 shifts in the local steel factory meant that hiring help to babysit me or to help around was not an option, financially speaking.

One day, mom kindly asked me to get the chicken out of the freezer, while she was at work so that she can cook it when she arrives home, in the evening. Of course, if everything had gone according to her plan, I wouldn’t be writing this now. She came home and the chicken was not ready. I remember the irritated look in her visibly tired eyes. For sure, I was expecting the whoopin’ of the decade, but instead a calm dialogue started:

Why is the chicken still frozen?
-Because I took it out late from the freezer.

Why did you take it out late from the freezer?
-Because I played video games all day long with very few breaks

Why didn’t you take more breaks, from time to time?
-Because I had nobody to remind me.

Why didn’t you set a reminder yourself?
-Because the alarm clock doesn’t work anymore.

Why doesn’t it work anymore?
-Its batteries are dead.

So she proceeded to buying new batteries for our alarm clock so that next time I wouldn’t lose track of time so much.We also ate dinner late that day.

Years have passed since then and it hit me quite recently, while studying for the Lean Six Sigma certification. What she actually did then was nothing else than to apply the 5Whys, a method which is part of the Toyota Production System. Developed by Sakichi Toyoda, a Japanese inventor and industrialist, the technique became an integral part of the Lean philosophy.

“The basis of Toyota’s scientific approach is to ask why five times whenever we find a problem … By repeating why five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.“

Taiichi Ohno

Long story, short: it’s a very interactive and easy technique to use in a workshop or a meeting if you’re planning to perform a root cause analysis and quick solution identification.

All you have to do is :

  1. Get a whiteboard and markers (or anything you can use to write on);
  2. Form a team
  3. State the problem
  4. Ask the 5 Whys
  5. Take action once the team finds the root cause

Lucky for me is that her background in production helped her not to act on impulse, the whoopin’ part would have been just a short term solution which would not guarantee the success of the next iteration.

If my mom could do it, so can you. Remember: be nice, have empathy, listen. Be human.

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