Implementing the 5 “Why’s” in your workplace

In manufacturing and service businesses alike, your ultimate goal is to improve the bottom line and the easiest way to achieve this aim is through cost reduction. Seeking out and eliminating low hanging fruit should be the first step in this effort.

Unfortunately most businesses attempt this through reductions in the workforce since human capital typically accounts for the largest share of both costs and errors. Although counter intuitive, reducing human capital is typically the last thing you should consider.

The first push in reduction of operating costs should be a reduction in rework. Redirecting attention, from the human factor, to the root causes of this rework can shift culture, improve moral, and open up avenues of growth previously unknown.

Rework results in customer dissatisfaction internally and externally, reduction in sales, and a reduction in overall profits. Traditional assessments stop after reaching the human piece of the process.

Blaming human failure rarely resolves the root cause, a deeper analysis must be conducted if the driving forces behind the action or inaction are to be understood and failsafe’s put in place. The ultimate goal of your quality department should be adopting Sakichi Toyoda’s mindset and considering every nonconforming metric an opportunity for further development.

Using the 5 Why analysis can help you to arrive at this root cause and provide a long lasting resolution. Introduce the 5 whys first to your quality department and bleed it to each of the departments as a regular part of their process. Eventually your teams will adopt the policy of asking why 5 times or more as required to reach the true root cause.

In scenarios below recent real life examples are provided in service application and manufacturing application of the 5 why analysis.

5 Why Analysis – Service

Nonconforming service: Outdated information was used to provide incorrect recommendations, which resulted in losses to multiple internal customers.

Why? – The human resource associate provided advice based on personal preference and bias

Why? – The human resource associate did not conduct an area assessment

Why? – The human resource associate did not know an area assessment was required

Why? – The human resource associate did not know the local and company policies had changed

Why? – The human resources office is severely understaffed and didn’t have time to read the policy change letter

Additional Why? – The central human resources office cannot fill slots in the region

Additional Why? – The pay offered is below area norms

Initial root cause: Wages offered are too low to attract applicants, forcing larger workloads on current personnel, which increases the likelihood of mistakes.

Initial proposed resolution: Increasing wages to area norms to attract candidates, reduce workload and reduce the potential for future errors.

5 Why Analysis – Manufacturing

Nonconforming service: Prop exploded during final quality control process. No injuries recorded.

Why? – Stress fracture

Why? – Material weakness in the fracture area

Why? – The curing process was not completed properly

Why? – The heat was too low

Why? – The secondary coils failed

Initial root cause: Failure to heat the prop evenly and to the correct temperature resulted in material weakness, which developed a stress fracture.

Initial proposed resolution: Replace the oven

In both examples the analysis reached a point at which the investigating teams felt comfortable citing the initial root cause and proposing a resolution. While additional investigation was conducted both of the proposals were adopted. Companies routinely engaging 5 Why investigations have fewer repeat failures.

Recognizing failures as opportunities and working past the human factor and into the underlying causes of actions leading up to the event takes time. Employees benefit greatly from courses like those offered by ASQ, where they learn to properly train in employing the 5 why strategy.