Define it. No, but really define the problem.
According to an article from Harvard Business Review, “most companies aren’t sufficiently rigorous in defining the problems they’re attempting to solve and articulating why those issues are important.”
The same goes for us as individuals. In a world full of innovation, technology, and instant gratification, we are quick to come up with solutions that act more as bandaids than long-term resolve.
Studying for my certifications has taught me that it is in our best interest to spend the majority of the problem-solving time defining the problem and getting to the root cause of it. The more time spent defining means less energy, money, and resources wasted overall. Whether we are solving problems for ourselves or our company, I know nobody wants to be wasteful. The goal should be to make sure the current problem does not happen again.
One of my favorite ways to make sure I am getting to the root of a problem is the 5 Whys exercise. Like a child who asks, ‘why?’ after each statement, we can use the same approach to drill down and figure out what the true problem is. Now, unlike a child, we can follow some simple guidelines to make the most of this exercise.
Executing a Successful 5 Whys Exercise
- Problem and answer statements should be based on facts and knowledge.
- State the problem and ask ‘why?’ until the root cause is identified – in most cases, five questions will suffice. Other times it may be more or less.
- Always evaluate the process, not the people involved – blaming individuals or human error rarely solves any problems.
- Write it down – visuals help with clarity, especially when working with others.
- Be specific – consider the cause-and-effect at each step to reach the best conclusion.
Examples of 5 Whys in Action
Problem: I was late for my morning workout three times this week.
- Why? – I did not leave on time.
- Why? – I woke up late.
- Why? – I kept hitting the snooze button.
- Why? – Because I stayed up late.
- Why? – Because I was scrolling through Instagram past midnight.
Solution: Put the phone away at 10:30 pm so I can get a good night’s sleep and wake up on time for my morning workout.
Problem: Our guest satisfaction scores are down 15% (hotel).
- Why? – Voice of the Customer says they had a poor check-in experience.
- Why? – Because the front desk agents were not able to answer their membership questions at check-in.
- Why? – Because the front desk agents don’t remember all of the membership benefits.
- Why? – Because new membership tiers and benefits were added to the loyalty program.
- Why? – Because the company merged three different loyalty programs.
Solution: Re-train the front desk agents on the updated membership benefits. Additionally, provide loyalty guides at the front desk that agents can reference when answering guest questions.
Next time you encounter a problem (or just an area of opportunity for improvement), spend a little more time getting to the root of it and defining it rather than jumping straight to solutions. The causes may surprise you, but a clear definition will prepare you to implement an effective solution.
What is your process for problem-solving? Do you spend much time defining your problem or area of opportunity? Have you used the 5 Whys exercise before? Let me know in the comments below!