Chalmers St – Consulting

Chalmers St. 5 Whys Template

Happy July everyone! This month I will share some thoughts and news about the CI Mastermind Platform that we launched in June. Currently the platform provides tools for performing Waste Walks, writing Problem Statements, and performing 5 Whys Analysis. I will talk a bit more about 5 Whys, but first I would like to share the reason we decided to build the platform. For full context, I suggest that you login and try out the platform before reading the rest of the newsletter: 


When I first started practicing Six Sigma at Motorola a colleague shared an Excel workbook that had all sorts of templates to help apply Lean and Six Sigma techniques. This was a powerful guide that aided me in following the appropriate practice. When I established a continuous improvement program at HERE Technologies, my team built a repository for Lean and Six Sigma tools including instructional guides. These materials supported and reinforced techniques for the learner. When Chalmers St. launched CI Mastermind we created similar tools and guides. The problem is, and has always been, that the training and the templates exist in two separate places. The templates are built in Excel or PowerPoint which are not conducive to guiding the learner or communicating among peers. We realized that we were using old thinking and in the spirit of continuous improvement we saw the opportunity to use new rapid development platforms to provide a seamless experience learning and executing Lean Six Sigma techniques for our CI Mastermind members. 


The CI Mastermind Platform is a modern approach to supporting the learner. In keeping the principles of CI Mastermind in perspective, our platform is not intended to be a stand alone learning tool. Members receive development and coaching under the direction of one of our Master Black Belts. Then they use these tools regularly to ensure that they continuously follow the practices of Lean Six Sigma while delivering value to their organizations daily. The templates provide a record and opportunity for management to check on the degree to which the organization is actively using the practices that they were taught. 


With this first iteration of the CI Mastermind Platform we focused on the basics: Waste Walks, Problem Statements, and 5 Whys.


Waste Walk – These are opportunistic searches for the non-value added activities caused by  Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, Non-utilized talent, Transportation, Inventory, Motion, and Extra-processing. This is the engine that discovers the opportunities for improvement. An organization practicing continuous improvement will see weekly results from a consistent habit performing waste walks. 


Problem Statement – Once an opportunity is discovered, we need to document it in a way that everyone can understand. A waste walk will uncover multiple areas of non-value added activity, but the organization has to mobilize around a few vital problems to solve. Mobilizing the organization requires a clear and concise problem statement. The problem statement template allows the user to organize their thoughts so that they can use a single statement to mobilize the organization to solve the problem. 


5 Whys – Simple solutions are discovered by thinking through all of the questions surrounding the problem. 5 Whys forces the deep thinking that opens up the possibility of discovery. Our 5 Whys tools allows the user to elaborate their thoughts and consider deeply the causes of the symptoms they are experiencing in their process. This is perhaps the tool that we are most proud of because of the power that comes from thinking deeply. Every problem that is documented should include a 5 Whys analysis. 


The challenge that we have is we are all wired for quick solutions. It is ingrained in us at a very young age and throughout our education. We are asked a question and often measured on how quickly we can respond with the “right” answer. Right is in quotes because what is often right to one person is not right to another or is not right all the time. In business, engineering, and operations it is more often about finding the best answer. This is a search. The search must be conducted with curiosity rather than a predefined solution from a textbook. 


Performing 5 Whys forces us to think about better questions before we start thinking about solutions. The reason that we call it 5 Whys is that there is a tendency to identify some surface level cause and then start solving. The true cause is not likely to be only one or two whys deep. Getting to a fifth why forces us to think deeper than the surface and explore more possible causes. 


This is fairly simple to understand, but it is quite difficult to practice. In practicing the method you must write down each cause and look at the linkage back to the problem. This is where I often see people get sloppy by using poor grammar, putting multiple thoughts under a single why, and failing to check the chain of causality. In the past we would try to capture this in an Excel or PowerPoint template that could be used to visualize the chain of logic and communicate to peers. These tools are poor for both checking the thought process and for communication. This is the problem that we solved with our tool. The CI Mastermind 5 Whys tool provides a workflow to capture and guide a user’s thought process and allow the user to branch out and visualize that thought process so it can be further studied and communicated. 


It is important to emphasize that this is not simply about an online tool. There are many cloud based tools available for collaborative work. These tools are great for collaboration but they do not make their users better problem solvers. The CI Mastermind program is about creating great problem solvers. The software aids our Black Belts and supports learners to become great problem solvers. 


We will continue to improve our 5 Whys tool to be a better guide in problem solving. To fulfill our purpose we need your help. The way this tool will improve is through your active usage and feedback. Please tell us your experience in both building your 5 Whys and communicating with your peers. As you use the tool think about the following:

  • What went well?
  • What was not intuitive?
  • How could this have better helped me think through cause?
  • Did my peers understand my thoughts and did the tool help or hinder this communication?


Your input will allow us to continue to build out this tool and help you make a greater impact on your organization through improved problem solving.