5 Why in Lean - Keep asking questions

5-Bullet Friday 03rd Sept 2021


Welcome to our 5-Bullet Friday where we share insights, learnings, tools, and tips on making changes happen. 

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*sunk cost refers to money that has already been spent and cannot be recovered.

Nearly all companies have spent time, effort and money chasing after a project that should have been stopped long before. Even though we know that the project should be stopped, we have committed people, resources and capital into projects and have difficulty walking away.

One of the main reasons we continue to chase these projects is because leaders and managers will have committed to the project and in some way linked their own professional success with the project’s success.

Walking away from projects and admitting they do not work could amount to professional suicide.

Lean asks us to figure out where we can create the most value for our customers daily.

A culture focused on maximising customer value every day means we should not get trapped in projects that are no longer worthy of our time and investment. Customer value replaces capital invested.

However, we need a culture where “canning” a project is acceptable.

If there is one tool that sums up root-cause analysis, it’s the 5 Whys. Simple to teach, easy to learn, but a challenge to do 5 Whys well.

While the 5 Why might be taught in a linear way—just ask why 5 times, and out pops a solution—it is actually multidimensional. Every time you ask why, you don’t end up with one response. You end up with perhaps 2 or 4 or 10 responses for each why. Before you know it, the first why has extended into a tree.

Each of these lines of enquiry needs to be followed before finally filtering out the possible root cause.

Learn more about the 5 Whys >

This podcast, by the Center of Human Technology, is an excellent example of how framing ideas is just as important as the idea itself.

When driving change in organisations, we all need to focus not on the problems but on the opportunities and how we present these opportunities.

Four qualities define a solutions story:

  • It must be about an implemented response to a problem rather than just a person or an idea.
  • It must examine the evidence of success or failure — do we know how well this solution works?
  • It must be informational and not just inspirational, by providing information to people experiencing the same problem.
  • It must also cover the solution’s limitations.

“It is a turning from mindlessness to thoughtfulness, from dogmatism to self-scrutiny, from habit to deliberateness.”

When Nacy Bauer wrote this in one of her essays, she referred more to individual people than workplace culture, but there is a lot to learn.

When our culture mindlessly does the same things in a dogmatic way that forms a monotonous habit, no improvements are possible. These are workplaces where creativity is killed, and the way to survive is for employees to keep their heads down and not rock the boat.

However, lean thinking is about being thoughtful about what you are doing. It is about self-reflection (Hansei) and always being deliberate in what you do. This is the culture where we transform. We can continually find better ways of working and where creativity and innovation foster.

As some of you will know, I am a great fan of “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman, and thankfully, he has just released a new book called “Noise – A Flaw In Human Judgement”.

This book examines why people make bad judgements, explores the level of “noise” in our decision-making processes, and explains how we all suffer from cognitive bias.

Interestingly, this “noise” level introduces huge variations in our business decisions, operation practices, and, ultimately, business results. These “poor” and “noisy” decisions impact everything from medical diagnosis and insurance premiums to selecting the most suitable candidate for vacancies.

Now that the schools are returning and the summer holidays are over, we hope you have more time to invest in your professional development. So either get shifting with your current course or get booked into one of our courses and make the most of what remains in 2021.

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Reagan Pannell

Reagan Pannell

Reagan Pannell is a highly accomplished professional with 15 years of experience in building lean management programs for corporate companies. With his expertise in strategy execution, he has established himself as a trusted advisor for numerous organisations seeking to improve their operational efficiency.

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