An interesting query, “Why can’t I save money?” was a search used that found Eliminate The Muda. This question has certainly been asked millions of times. Why wouldn’t this reader already know why they can’t save money?
You might be inclined to state the seemingly obvious, “you spend too much!” But is it really as easy as that? A person may actually find themselves in a position of debt, or simply broke for a variety of reasons. If this situation sounds familiar, you might want to use a proven approach to find the true root cause. The approach is a technique called the 5 Whys.
The 5 Whys is used to gain an understanding of the cause and effect relationship of a particular problem. If used correctly the 5 Whys should uncover the root cause(s) and provide insight on how to overcome a challenge.
Many have been introduced to this concept, but often an instructor presents only a simplistic approach to utilizing this technique. The common method of teaching this concept includes providing an example of the 5 Whys in action. Unfortunately, common examples often present only a linear and limited view of the approach. Here is an example straight from Wikipedia:
- My car will not start. (the problem)
- Why? – The battery is dead. (first why)
- Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
- Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
- Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and has never been replaced. (fourth why)
- Why? – I have not been maintaining my car according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)
The 5 Whys have been criticized by some because of its “limitations.” Some believe the 5 Whys have a tendency to lead people to the wrong conclusion. No wonder, if you limit yourself to this linear perspective. We can easily see the flaw in this approach. It does not identify all the possible causes of the belt failure; could the bearings in the alternator be frozen? It may not address the unknown; could the belt have been damaged due to chemical contamination? Are there other possible causes?
What most fail to understand is that the 5 Whys title is only meant to be a reminder that we should keep asking questions. There is no rule that you are only allowed to ask why 5 times and there is no rule that says you must ask a minimum of 5.
Additionally, many do not understand that you are supposed to ask why “5 times”, if possible, for each answer that is identified. The intent behind the 5 Whys is to identify all possibilities before you mistakenly attempt to apply an ineffective solution. Spending time applying the wrong solution is nothing but waste (muda!)
Understanding that we should explore all possibilities, let us take a look at a more comprehensive example of the 5 Whys using our title question. Why can’t I save money?
Unlike the broken fan belt example we quickly identified two potential root causes; spending too much and not earning enough. Each of these possibilities would then be addressed to their ultimate conclusion. This example also illustrates the reality that some issues may have more than one root cause. If so, you may want to address both or choose to focus on one opportunity first.
Furthermore, using “I never learned how to budget” as an example, in some cases getting to the true root cause may not matter. Did the educational system fail to teach or did the parents. Maybe the individual simply didn’t take advantage of educational opportunities previously available. Regardless the opportunity rectify this is education today.
Any question in this example may have more than one answer. Each answer could lead to additional questions.
Like electricity following the least path of resistance, it is human nature to jump to conclusions. Call it the desire for instant gratification or laziness, too often people choose a path before fully appreciating the root cause of their problems. Keeping the 5 Whys in mind will remind you to drive not for the easiest answer, but the best answer.
Readers: Can you share a personal or professional challenge you have right now that the 5 Whys could help you solve.