018: It’s Almost As If… (5 Whys)

018: It’s Almost As If… (5 Whys)

If you want to dig down to the root cause of a problem, try the 5 Whys method mentioned in this episode.   And if you want to see what made me say “It’s almost as if…”, you’ll find that today to.   

So, one day I had to do some work on a welding robot. This is a robot that you program to weld parts together.

It does a great job as long as everything stays in place correctly.

On that day, somehow the welds it was producing seemed to have shifted off location and I was touching up the program to try to fix it.

I had done this several times before so I jumped into the program, bumped the points a little bit and then ran it through the cycle.

When the turntable swung back around and I grabbed the finished part out I was a little confused because it didn’t seem like my change had done anything.

I took a closer look and put it under some better light just to check it against the previous part.

And sure enough they looked the same.

I was a little puzzled but I had seen this before and so I hopped back into the program, tweaked the points a little bit more and gave it another go.

Certainly, that had to have done it, right?

Well, as it turned out, that was a big NOPE.

The second part came out and… well… it looked exactly like the first one.

Robot welding can be a bit touchy and I’d seen a few times where welds just seemed to want to go a certain direction.

I told myself I’d do one more small adjustment and that should do it.

So I did. Then I sent the part in, the robot welded it… and… drumroll… STILL THE SAME RESULT.

I was like “are you kidding me right now!?”

So I sat down with the family of bad parts in my hand that all shared a striking resemblance of a bad weld.

And this thought came into my head as I struggled to figure it out.

“It’s almost as if…” I started, in my head.

“It’s almost as if… nothing I did affected this program.”

“It’s almost as if….”

Suddenly I jumped up and darted over to the controller. I looked at the part and then back at the screen.

I had been modifying the wrong program.

So, I went in, made the right change and boom… fixed it on the first try.

But the whole thing reminded me of a root cause or troubleshooting concept we have in Lean Manufacturing called the 5 Whys.

Similar to what we talked about in episode 4 on Curiosity, the 5 Whys is an easy way to dig deeper and deeper to find the true source of a problem.

Unfortunately, most times we stop at the first or second answer and assume that is the problem. But it’s just a symptom.

In my case, it might have gone like this.

Q1: “Why is the weld still coming out wrong?”

A1: “Because the robot isn’t welding the correct location”

Q2: “Why isn’t the robot welding the correct location?”  

A2: “Because the points must be off”

Q3: “Why are the points still off?” (this is where I made a false assumption in my answer)

A3: “Because I still need to keep moving them.”

And so on.

The key is that each answer is not only analyzed for accuracy but is also followed up with another question that goes one level down… until you arrive at the real cause.

Try that in your own organization this week. The next issue that pops up that you need to solve, keep asking why until you feel like you’ve sufficiently gotten past the easy or surface answers.

Become a detective. Don’t settle. Dig down deep.

Because that is when you’ll be able to really leverage your energy and manpower to get at the root and get things back to where they need to be.

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