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Problem Solving Technique - Stop focusing on the What; look for the Why!




Increasingly, clients, bosses approach us with their "What”. The problem they are facing or trying to resolve is a What.


What you are being asked to do is a What.

What is visible, while the Why may not be.

What is the Why of the What? (...or the why behind the what)


Asking Why


The question why seeks to understand objectives, cause and effect and solution finding. Bosses must learn to understand that asking why is not rude but seeks to understand the rationale behind the what.


Why is asking what would success look like? Asking why enables you to compare outcomes with the objective. Asking why also allows gives insight to where we are presently. How did we get here or why did we get here?


Not dealing with why is taking a pain reliever for your headache and not dealing with why you have a headache in the first place, even though the headache may have subsided.



For example, a printing service company is experiencing a drop in income.


On the face of it, this is the problem - the What. Without further analysis, you might be tempted to think the solution is to look for more business.


further questions may be revealing and helpful.


Let us see how this can play out.


Question - Why are we experiencing drop in revenue?

Answer - We are experiencing drop in revenue because our clients pay late or have refused to pay.


Question - Why are clients refusing to pay?

Answer - We are not meeting delivery deadline; clients are refusing to pay because jobs are delivered too late


Question - Why are we not meeting deadline?

Answer - We have a backlog of work to be done, hence we are struggling to meet delivery deadlines.


Question - Why do we have such backlog.

Answer - Because the printing machines are slow.


Question - Why are the machines slow?

Answer - a particular part is worn out, etc.

You can ask further questions by asking more Why's but a clearer picture of the root cause of the problem begins to emerge.


Solving the Problem

Jumping at what might seem like the obvious answer may well compound the situation. In the above example, if your immediate response is to look for more clients, you will end up making the situation worse unless the root cause has been dealt with.


Replacing the worn-out part is the solution required to solve the above problem...


This called the 5 Whys whose origin is credited to Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota.


Shola Ajani

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