Why Not Ask Why?

Manufacturing can be downright instructive. The more useful concepts in manufacturing can be applied directly to our own lives. Take the distinction between roughing and finishing, for example. In manufacturing and in life, the key to effectiveness is not necessarily finesse, but knowing where the fine

Columns From: 7/26/2008 Modern Machine Shop, ,

Manufacturing can be downright instructive. The more useful concepts in manufacturing can be applied directly to our own lives.

Take the distinction between roughing and finishing, for example. In manufacturing and in life, the key to effectiveness is not necessarily finesse, but knowing where the finesse needs to be applied. This idea has application beyond the machine tool.

Another idea like that is the principle of “Five Why.” Part of the Toyota Production System, Five Why says that every recurring problem in the process ought to be analyzed by asking “why” five different times to get to the root cause.

A Toyota Web site gives this illustration: Why did the robot stop? A circuit overloaded. Why did the circuit overload? The bearings locked up. Why did the bearings lock up? The pump is not circulating enough oil. Why is the pump not circulating enough oil? Its intake is clogged with shavings. Why is the intake clogged with shavings? There is no filter on the pump.

This line of inquiry represents a deeper sequence of why’s than most of us routinely follow. More typically, we ask the question just a couple of times before we hit the floor of what we think we can change. Yet without all of the why’s in the example above, the shop might never have made the connection between adding a pump filter and keeping the robot running. Instead, that shop would simply have gotten very good at changing the same blown fuse again and again.

In our working lives even off the shop floor, I think we do the same thing. In the stumbling blocks we keep on stumbling over, we settle into the behavioral equivalent of changing the same fuse again and again. Given that it goes against our nature to ask “why” five times about a piece of hardware, imagine how much more resistance we must have against asking so many why’s of our personal mindsets and routines.

But ask anyway. Ask and keep asking. Is there a recurring problem that keeps you from maximizing your own output or performance? If you can see the impediment (often you can’t), then try asking why five times about it. If the line of why’s can get to the robot’s root difficulty, imagine what else it might improve.

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