Stage B: Begin the 5 Whys Process


To start Stage B, restate the Stage A Problem Statement as a question that begins with ‘Why”. Next discuss possible responses to the ‘Why’ question. Keep the responses based in fact, grounded in something that does actually occur and not on conjecture about something that might or could occur.

Sticking with the facts prevents 5 Whys from taking a wrong turn. A discussion focused on what might or could occur leads to a root cause that is not in fact experienced by the Team. A discussion focused on the genuine experiences of the Team provides a process for peeling back, layer by layer, a root cause of something that is creating a barrier to achieving the Team’s Vision. Remember to steer away from responses that cite the lack of time, money or people as the sole reason the problem exists. Fiscal and other shortages are real, but are often beyond what a local Team can remedy.

Regional and local Teams have less influence on the root cause of fiscal issues, since they frequently stem from decisions made at state and federal levels. A regional multi agency team’s influence is in the ability to positively impact the collaborative practices and professional relationships across the agencies of practitioners in direct contact with transition youth.

The 1st Why is separated out as Stage B for a reason. In order for the 5 Whys process to be effective in uncovering root cause, it is vital for it to begin appropriately. The answer to the 1st Why question sets the direction for the rest of the root cause discussion.

It takes less energy and time to admire a problem than it does to set in motion strategies that require people to change. Your Team members likely do not have extra time available to spend in the sole pursuit of commiserating with others about current unsatisfactory conditions. ‘Misery loves company’ may feel validating but it is not a productive path to making positive change. By engaging in earnest in root cause discussion, the Team can identify the nucleus of the problem and strategically plan to make improvements. The 1st Why question is always a restatement of the Stage A problem statement, as a question, beginning with ‘Why’.

Complex problems will usually have more than one root cause. The Stage B examples show the statements that resulted from the Team’s discussions about the nuances of and possible reasons for why the problem exists. The ‘answer’ to the 1st Why question is the answer that is right for the Team that generated it. Different Teams would likely land on a different answer, leading to a different root cause.

Stage B criteria useful for 1st Why:

  • Is understood in the same way by all members of the Team
  • Is factual and objective and not based on conjecture or opinion
  • Does not fault particular people or systems
  • Does not cite a lack of adequate time, personnel or money as the problem

See The Root Cause Analysis – The 5 Whys Process, Stage B – the 1st Why Examples of the 1st Why Question. These examples illustrate how to move from the Stage A problem statements to Stage B, the 1st Why.

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