Get RA-Wise with 5 Whys

5 Whys is perhaps the best known technique for finding the root cause of problems. Developed in Japan and pioneered in Toyota, it belongs with quality management and Kaizen as one of the factors behind the high-precision, low-error Japanese manufacturing revolution. Part of its genius is that the method itself is so simple. Start with a problem. Ask why you have the problem. Whatever the answer, ask why again – why are things like that, why is that answer true, why is the business like that? Keep repeating the question every time you get an answer, until you have forced yourself to get to the very bottom, the essential root cause that underlies the problem and where it becomes impossible to ask why again. To get to the bottom may take more than 5 whys; it just happens that 5 is a reasonable guess at how many it will take. So to give a simple illustration of how 5 Whys would apply to RA, imagine a bill is in error. Why? Because a CDR is missing. Why? Because the switch was not working as expected. Why? It got overloaded. Why? Because actual call volumes were above the design spec. Why? You get the idea by now – just keep asking why until there is nothing left to learn.

Simple, huh? Well, getting the answers might be a lot of hard work. But the point is right – RA should keep asking why until it finds the real root causes of the leakages. And if not RA, then who should ask why? The answer to that is plain: if it is not RA’s job to uncover and address these root causes, then it is nobody’s job to uncover and address these root causes. RA is unusual in having a job spec that gives it the freedom to research, find, and drive the response to root causes which lead to leakage, wherever and whatever those root causes are.

But does every RA function habitually ask the 5 Whys? No. Why? Because they can get results more quickly without asking the 5 Whys. Why? Because drilling to the root cause may be time-consuming and RA can get credit for just treating the symptoms. Why? Because finding the root cause often involves more than analysing data that RA already has (or wants) and RA can choose to measure the benefits they add by just treating symptoms. Why? Because addressing symptoms does deliver nominal benefits that can keep their bosses happy and nobody is pushing RA to measure how well they dealt with root causes. Why? Because executive management is comfortable with just addressing symptoms and RA is comfortable with satisfying those more limited expectations of executive management. Why? Because nobody in RA or the executive team is motivated to change the business more fundamentally.

Have I made my point? I think so; RA can and should deal with fundamentals and lead the discovery of root causes in order to drive fundamental change. Why? Because I believe that if RA does this, then businesses will be better… and that is the root cause of this blog.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.