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Using The 5 Whys Approach To Identify A Business Problem

Apr 16, 2008
Small business owner David M. felt the ground shifting beneath his feet. How was he supposed to grow his business when he was continually dealing with customer service issues and day-to-day "fluff" that his staff should be able to handle? He felt sidetracked - and he was. Yet where was he to start to identify what were core issues and what were symptoms of the problems in his operation?

David knew that he did not have much time to fix the problem. He didn't know exactly where to start. He talked to his business network who were his friends who were in business. None of them knew where to start although they all felt that David had to do something quick.

One of his friends suggested that he talk to a business coach that he met a few weeks ago at a networking event. David gave the coach a call and set up a meeting. The coach listened for a while and suggested that David try some basic problem solving tools. The coach was certain that these tools could help David.

David reviewed the tools and noted that there were several that could help him. Some were more complicated than others. They required a great deal of information gathering and some general business statistics and analysis. David did not have the time nor the expertise to use these tools to help him solve his business problems. David, like most of us, did not want anything complicated. He wanted a simple tool that would yield immediate and lasting results.

David decided to apply The 5 Whys test to his situation. A tool that originated from the Toyota Production System, the premise is simple enough - ask "why" five times to get to the root cause of a business challenge. He chose his customer service situation to address first.

Problem: Sales staff not able to deal independently with product returns.

Why?Because they don't know how.

Why?Because the staff has not been trained regarding the different types of product returns (with a receipt, without a receipt, store-credit, cash back, etc.).

Why? David has devoted his energies to pressing issues and emergencies each business day.

Why?David has not developed a documented process in place to deal with returns.

Why?David has not dealt well with identifying priorities that cost him both money and time.

David discovered that instead of dealing head-on with the issue, he dealt with each customer return "crisis" individually - a very inefficient way to do business. Based on using The 5 Whys, he developed a detailed process and provided training for how returns were to be handled by his staff. He then devoted the time that he had been spending dealing with customer issues to grow his business.

This one action of using the 5 Whys to find the real cause or root cause of his business problem and then acting on this has helped David's business immensely. His employees are happier and more confident, and he has more time to work on things that can help him grow his business. He gained enough time to think about his next location - and by training his team he was able to make sure that they had the attitudes and the skills to make this location a success.
About the Author
Art Espey is an experienced entrepreneur who has significant experience in start-ups, small business, and Inc. 500 company growth. Art is dedicated to helping you burst through your business barriers. Art can be reached at www.4steps2.com.
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