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In grade school, I learned that a journalist is supposed to ask and answer the questions:  Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?

  • Who is it about?
  • What happened?
  • When did it take place?
  • Where did it take place?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How did it happen?

In the business world, I learned the approach of 5 Why’s?  1. Why did it happen?  2. Why was that?  3. Why was that? 4. And Why was that? 5. Finally, Why was that?  Actually, it can go on and on.  The point is, like a 2 year old child, keep asking the important “Why?” questions till you really get to the root cause of the problem.  Here is a simple example taken from Wikipedia:

  • The vehicle will not start. (the problem)
  1. Why? – The battery is dead. (first why)
  2. Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
  3. Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
  4. Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
  5. Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)
  6. Why? – Replacement parts are not available because of the extreme age of the vehicle. (sixth why, optional footnote)
  • Start maintaining the vehicle according to the recommended service schedule. (possible 5th Why solution)
  • Adapt a similar car part to the car. (possible 6th Why solution)

It occurs to me, that in the business world we should reverse the order of questions that the journalist is taught.  Consider:

  • How did it happen? How did a bad part get out the door and into the customer’s hands?
  • Why did it happen?  Use the 5 Why’s analysis till you get to a root cause.
  • Where is the data supporting the conclusions?
  • When will it be fixed?
  • What is the plan?
  • Who will take charge and be accountable for solving this problem?

Questions are a powerful way of engaging people in understanding your business and getting their commitment to your vision/mission/goals and supporting your values.  If done right, questions can focus on the issue and not the people.  Remember:

Just ASK — Always Seek Knowledge™