Eric Ries, the author of the ‘Lean Startup’, was quoted to have said that at the root of every technical problem is a human problem. He, therefore, came up with a set of five questions for founders and managers to ask in the event of a technical or human problem in production systems. The five ‘whys’, therefore, are a guide to not only pinpointing a particular human problem but also in identifying the root – cause of the problem which easily leads to a lasting solution. As such, when confronted with a problem, the first thing to do is ask the five whys. But what are they?
The five questions
Suppose at a certain technology company XYZ, certain key features of a software stopped working. The questions would be: Why did the features stop working? (Say, because a particular server failed). The next question would be: Why did the server fail? (A certain subsystem was operated in the wrong way). The third question would be: Why was it operated wrongly? (The engineer who used it did not know how to operate it properly).
The fourth question: Why didn’t he know? (He was never trained). The last question to complete the set of five would be: Why wasn’t he trained? (His manager does not believe in training new engineers because he and his team are ‘too busy’).
As such, what turned out as initially a technical problem ends up as a managerial issue.
To resolve such a puzzle, it the server and subsystem have to be fixed so that they are less error prone and in the end, we would need to have a word with this manager who is ‘too busy’ to train. The latter part of having a word with the manager might be the most difficult one, given that startup managers actually have quite a lot to do. The whole process of the maintenance and halting production to train the team would be tedious and unproductive. As such, the solution is to adopt gradual improvements over a given period, say a month. This would imply fixing servers and allocating an hour daily to train the engineers.
Paul Njuguna is a financial and cost accountant.