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The 5 Whys: A Root Cause Analysis Technique

“Why” is such a powerful question that it’s the basis for a root cause analysis technique called the 5 whys. The thought is that by the time you ask a stakeholder “Why?” 5 times, you generally have arrived at the root cause. Consider this example:

Q:Why did you submit a purchase requisition for $750?”
A: “Because we need to purchase 150 staplers!”
Q:Why do you need to purchase 150 staplers?”
A: “Because our agents need to staple the pages of the driver’s license application together.”
Q: Why do they need to staple those pages together?”
A: “Because we need to keep the two pages together. When we received the new printer, IT changed the default setting from double-sided to single-sided printing, and now we print out two pages rather than one.”

So now you’ve figured out the real problem: It’s the printer settings for the network printer, and it has nothing to do with the stapler. The business created a solution to the problem, but they’re fixing it the wrong way. And you didn’t even need all 5 whys!

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