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Why I keep asking Why

Updated: May 16, 2021

When trying to find out why an issue is occurring I find I end up asking ‘why’ multiple times. Often the answer to the first ‘why’ is just a symptom of a real problem. By continuing to ask ‘why’ (again and again) you can often start to uncover what the root cause of the issue is, resolve this, and you are more likely to prevent it reoccurring.

For example:

Q: Why do people regularly miss deadlines?

A: Because they have to respond to an urgent business needs

Q: Why are these business needs urgent?

A: The system has produced an error so key management reports cannot be produced without intervention

Q: Why is the system producing an error?

A: Because of an upload issue

Q: Why is there an upload issue?

A: Because the template was incorrectly completed

Q: Why was the template incorrectly completed?

A: I don’t know

So one solution could be further training is required, or maybe the template could be amended to prevent incorrect data being entered. Often there is no simple one answer, but as you can identify the root causes, and resolve them, you can start to resolve the symptom you experienced – in this case missing deadlines because of having to respond to urgent system errors.

Some tips on applying this:

Personally I don’t often use the word ‘why’ in my ‘why’ questions. Feel free to ask probing questions in a more subtle and natural way in the conversation to help uncover what is really behind the issue.

Once I have the data I find it really helpful to produce a root cause analysis diagram to help understand these, such as the one below.

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