Lean Six Sigma is all about doing the right things in the most efficient way in order to provide value to customers. Yet, organizations routinely include non-value-added steps – work that isn’t important to the customer – that increase expenses.

Since customers only want to pay for value, it makes no sense to incorporate non-value-added activities into the mix. But how do you find and eliminate these steps without upsetting the entire process. The best way is to ask, “Why?”

Why Ask, “Why?”

A simple, yet effective method of getting to the root of an issue is the “5 Whys” method. Developed by Toyota Production Systems and used frequently in Lean Six Sigma, it requires you to look at a problem and repeatedly ask why.

Repeatedly asking the question “why” allows you to strip away assumptions and helps you find the cause of a problem. It points out the importance of viewing each process through different eyes, not accepting things as they’ve always been done, and looking for those steps that truly are not necessary.

Practice Asking “Why?”

While many feel that five repetitions of asking why is generally sufficient to get to a root cause, it may require more questions, it may only point out a symptom, and it may never lead you to the root cause. However, when combined with other Lean Six Sigma tools, it can be very useful.

Here’s a simplified example of how it works. This client was shipped bad products.

  • Why?
  • They were built to a specification different from what the customer and sales agreed to.
  • Why?
  • There was an error in the communication.
  • Why?
  • Sales called it in instead of completing a spec form.
  • Why?
  • The form requires the sales director’s approval, which slows the process down.

Ultimately, the company decided that the sales director merely needed to be kept in the loop and did not need to review and sign each spec.

If you find problems in your work processes, it may be due to non-value added work steps. We can help by providing your team assistance with Lean Six Sigma and LSS training programs. For more information, review our website or contact us directly.

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