22 April 2006

QBQ versus 5 Whys

QBQ! is an acronym for The Question Behind The Question, a concept developed by John G Miller.

Miller believes that pointing fingers and blaming others cannot solve the troubles that plague organizations. Rather, the real solutions are found when each of us recognizes the power of personal accountability. Miller explains how negative, inappropriate questions like "Why do we have to go through all this change?" and "Who dropped the ball?" represent a lack of personal accountability. Conversely, when we ask better questions-QBQs-such as "What can I do to contribute?" or "How can I help solve the problem?" our lives and our organizations are transformed.

QBQ! encourages to ask "How" and "What" questions instead of "Why" and "Who" questions.

But how about the 5 Whys problem-solving technique?

By repeatedly asking the question "Why", the root cause of a problem will be identified easily.

Here is a real world example from a kitchen range manufacturer:

Symptom: There is too much work in process inventory, yet we never seem to have the right parts.


Symptom: The enameling process is unpredictable, and the press room does not respond quickly enough.


Symptom: It takes them too long to make a changeover between parts, so the lot sizes are too big, and often the wrong parts.


Symptom: Many of the stamping dies make several different parts, and must be reconfigured in the tool room between runs, which takes as long as eight hours.


Symptom: The original project management team had cost overruns on the building site work, so they skimped on the number of dies - they traded dedicated dies and small lot sizes for high work-in-process (which was not measured by their project budget).


Root Cause: Company management did not understand lean manufacturing, and did not set appropriate project targets when the plant was launched.

It is almost universally true that by the time you ask why five times, it is clear that the problem had is origins in management.

So which is right? Should we ask "Why" when encountering problems?

Why should be used when the problems are related to deliverables (D), because asking why repeatedly will help seek the truth.

Why should NOT be used when the problems are related to people (P), because this will easily lead to victim thinking.

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