If you have been around young children, I’m sure you have fallen into the “Why” game or “Why” loop with the young’un. I’m now a grandfather and the game started again a long time ago. “Grampa? Why is that man limping?” “Well, he has a cast on his foot.” “Why, Grampa?” “Well, it looks like he was injured.” “Why?” And so it goes. These brilliant young children have mastered root cause analysis and they don’t even know it.
Unfortunately, as we grow older, we tend to accept certain things at face value based on experience. The man is limping because he has a cast due to injury and we leave it at that.
Sometime later we see the same man, now with a cast on his arm. Again, the grandson starts with the whys. “It looks like he now injured his arm as well,” and I’m thinking, “This dude is clumsy or has had some very bad luck.” Overcome by curiosity, we approach the man and inquire about his injuries since we have seen him twice. “Nice of you to ask,” he says. “You see, I fell down the steps on my porch twice because of the rotted boards. I was meaning to repair them but I’m a little low on cash. I lost my job due to COVID-19.”
Ah, now we have solved the puzzle. The limping is due to a cast from an injury, but the injury is due to a fall, based on rotted boards on a porch the man could not fix. Welcome to the Five Whys.
Grandson: “Why is the man limping?”
- Why 1: He has a cast
- Why 2: He fell off his porch
- Why 3: Rotted boards
- Why 4: Neglected maintenance
- Why 5: No money due to layoff
We have learned much about the man’s ill fortune. If we had just left our query at the 10,000-foot level, we would have just accepted that the man had a cast because of an injury. Why the man fell the second time may require a checkup from the neck up with his physician, but that is another story. Because we asked, we discovered why the man fell into his predicament. From this, we can formulate some meaningful corrective action. Since the man does not have money to fix the porch, we can help by closing off the porch, preventing access and further injury. This is a short-term corrective action. The problem is not solved, but a recurrence of the possible injury has been prevented. This can also be the containment phase of the solution.
We know that if you walk on the porch, you can get injured, so we prevented access. The full corrective action would be for the man to heal, get a job and repair the porch. Once complete, the restrictions to the porch can be removed and life will continue as normal. Right? Wrong. We are forgetting something—preventive maintenance. We need to add a step, so the man inspects the porch on a routine basis to identify any problems in an early stage to prevent recurrence of the initial problem. Now we have officially closed the loop.
You see, we tend to accept things prematurely as we get older. We make assumptions based on life experiences. This can be problematic in process development and maintenance. We need to question more when necessary. Any nonconformance, whether it be on the manufacturing floor, electrical test, or in our daily routines can utilize the Five Whys discipline.
Most, if not all nonconformance issues, can be rooted down five levels at least. Don’t give up too early. To find true root causes, it takes some critical thinking. Just because a brainiac created the process or activity doesn’t mean they cannot be wrong. Even the smartest of minds are wrong some of the time. We all are. Ask questions.
Happy holidays to all my readers. It is with your support that I keep writing. My best to all of you and your families wherever you may be.
This column originallyl appeared in the December 2021 issue of PCB007 Magazine.