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Asking The Five Whys When Things Go Wrong

Submitted by James Higginbotham on December 16, 2009 – 4:56 amNo Comment

Sometimes, things just don’t go the way you would expect. You think you’ve planned enough, but for some reason things just didn’t come together.

Rather than pointing fingers, Joel Spolsky recommends asking “The Five Whys” to your team. Giving an example from a recent problem for a road show conference, here is what he means by “The Five Whys”:

So I wanted to go through the Five Whys exercise with Ryan and his staff. Five Whys is a problem-solving technique developed by Toyota after World War II to improve its manufacturing process. The idea is to ask “Why?” five times to get to the root of any failure, so you fix the core problem instead of the symptoms.

One problem in Austin was that we couldn’t switch video fast enough. Why? Because we were using a cheap switch purchased at an office superstore. Why? Because we assumed the venue operators would provide a high-quality switch, which they didn’t. Why? Because the venue didn’t have our list of AV requirements. Why? Because we didn’t get it there in time. Why? Because Carsonified didn’t yet have a standard checklist of procedures for each conference: what to do one month before, one week before, one day before, etc. Solution: Better checklists, a suggestion Ryan says he’ll follow up on.

Although the article is generally off-topic for the readers of this blog, if you have any interest in technical glitches, conferences on the road, or how to successfully outsource a task outside your team, you’ll find the full article very interesting: When and How to Micromanage (Inc Magazine).

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