Not so long ago in an organization not so far away, a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt not much different from many other Black Belts was running a value stream analysis. Creating the current state map was relatively easy since the participants understood their function and the way that information and inventory flowed along the path. There were the normal misunderstandings, but the misconceptions were corrected quickly and without much time wasted. The ideal state map was always easy because this was merely a wish list which nobody truly expected to come to fruition.

The problem came in the development of the future state map. It seemed that every step in the current state map was considered to be important and necessary. Sometimes it seemed as if the team members took turns declaring each step to be crucial to the process.

The frustrated Black Belt was beside himself trying to figure out how to lean the process. He knew that there were numerous non-value-added steps which were slowing the process and costing the organization a great deal of money. The question was how to get the team to see where the waste was.

Just How 5 Whys Tool Works

What the Black Belt decided to use was the 5 Whys technique. For those who have not used this technique in conjunction with value stream analysis, it is very simple. The idea is to simply ask why something is done as it is. To the response another why is asked. This continues until the team leader drills down to the ultimate basis for the action. As the Black Belt revisited each step in the process he started to ask why for each step that someone felt was necessary. The conversation went something like this:

Black Belt: For Step 15 is the review and authorization necessary?
Team member: Yes.
Black Belt: Why?
Team member: Because we need to determine acceptance.
Black Belt: Why?
Team member: Because we want to allow X the opportunity to ask questions at this point?
Black Belt: Why?
Team member: Because that is the way the process map was designed.
Black Belt? Why?
Team member: To develop buy-in at this level.
Black Belt: Has X ever questioned the process at this step? If not, why not just inform him where the process stands at this point?
Team member: We could do that and eliminate the authorization.

What the Team Can Learn

Using the 5 Whys technique does two things:

  • First, it makes the team understand that they cannot just accept every step as necessary because it had been done that way before.
  • Second, team members understand that they are going to have to defend their position and support it with facts. As the team goes along the process, it becomes easier and easier to find steps that are truly not necessary.

When customers are present, it becomes even harder to admit that the old way of doing things was costly and inefficient. Culture change is hard and sometimes it is necessary to make it more painful to stay the course than it is to accept change.

Value stream mapping is hard work because it requires looking at a process as if every step is non-value-added and is costing the organization time and resources. While this is not true, it is necessary to root out as many non-value-added steps as possible. The 5 Whys is an easy way to accomplish this task.

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