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Introduction to the A3                                                               Page 7

If we stop analyzing the cause of something to soon, if we stop asking why before we get to the root cause we will conclude that there are multiple causes for everything. In the previous step you have already identify multiple causes of the problem. Now the team needs to really take a closer look at each of those causes. No one needs to write it down but as a group take each cause listed in step and simply ask “Why?” and then discuss until you come to an answer. Then when you have the answer, ask “Why?” and discuss it until you have an answer. Continue this process until you can’t answer the question anymore. And then do the same for all the other causes. You will find that if you really talk these down that you will discover that almost all the causes you listed come to the same conclusion at the end of the process. The conclusion is most likely your one root cause. If you have a couple if causes that don’t fit into that, then these are most likely contributing factors and can be addressed at another time.
Here are some rules to follow in this process:
1.       You need to ask Why? A minimum of 5 times for each cause but don’t limit yourself to 5. Sometimes I have seen it take 10 or 15 whys before we got to the actual answer.
2.       You cannot accept the following type answers: Because, That’s the way it is, Why Not?, etc. Don’t fall into your learned habit, think it through and discuss it out.
3.       Do not be afraid to let it come back around to you, it often does. We sometimes tend to stop looking for a root cause when we sense that the next steps may lead to us answering that “We made a bad decision. “, or something like that. Resist that temptation and try to get to the honest root cause.
4.       Don’t look for blame. A 2-year-old is not trying to blame someone, they are simply trying to understand. That is what we are trying to do also.
Once the team has decided on the one Root Cause, write it on the A3 in a concise statement.

Now that seems a little harsh but if you think about it for a bit you may come to the same conclusion. Anyone who is a parent knows that 2-year-old children know and understand two words very well, the words NO and WHY. You see 2-year-olds instinctively know how to root cause analyze. Of course, we don’t think of it in such fancy terminology but here is what drives them. Everything is new to them and nothing is understood. They instinctively want to learn and understand everything, and they learn the way to do that is to ask someone Why  is the sky blue?  And a million other questions.

I was traveling just this past weekend and I observed this very interaction between a frazzled traveling mother and her young child. They had been bumped off a flight and she was trying to hurry along to another gate to see if she could get on standby. She explained patiently to her young charge that they had to hurry to get to the next gate to which the child replied excitedly “So we can get on the plane?” The mom replied, “I don’t know but I hope so.” The child, who was obviously tired and not really in the mood to hurry anywhere, looked at her mother and asked with a confused expression “If we are not going to get on the plane, why do we have to hurry?” 

“Because we may not be able to get on the plane if we don’t.”


“Because those are the rules.”

“Why are those the rules?”

Finally, the mother did what I knew was coming and what we have all done so many times ourselves,
“Because sometimes that is just the way it is and there is nothing that can be done, so stop asking questions and just hurry up. “and off they went through the crowd.

Sound familiar? Of course, no one can fault the mother for what she did. Sometimes we just can’t explain things to a two-year-old in a way that they could understand, sometimes we don’t have the answer and sometimes we just don’t have the time to go into the explanation.  All of these are very valid reasons to stop children from asking Why. Although this also has an unintended consequence, we all learn through the process to stop asking Why after a certain point. Usually that is once or twice. In other words, we develop a learned habit to ask why a couple of times and stop. We have been trained from a very young age to not get to the root cause of things. In the A3 process we must consciously break that habit because the key to getting to the root cause is to ask “Why?”, five times before you even think about stopping. The training you have received over the course of your life and the habit of only asking why something happens a couple of times is why you may also disagree with the first part: There can be only one root cause.