Apply the '5 whys technique' to your decision making process


As regularly discussed in the sports industry, the inner workings of a modern sporting organisation are often far more complicated than a traditional business or NGOs.

This can be attributed to the multi-faceted nature of these organisations’ goals and objectives. The reality of having to balance numerous diverse goals means that most sporting organisations are highly cross-functional and therefore highly complex.

This cross-functionality means that often times when broader goals and objectives are not met, it can be harder for managers to accurately pinpoint the underlying causes of the problems involved. Failing to increase participation rates for example could be somewhat influenced by any or all of poor development activities, poor marketing, uninspiring events or lack of commercial exposure.

But how can managers in difficult and complex cross-functional organisations such as sports bodies identify where the root causes of problems and issues are coming from? Furthermore, how can they do this where they have limited time to spare?

One useful technique that has been developed to assist in this process is the “5 whys” technique. The 5 Whys is a very simple tool that was first utilised by Toyota in their revolutionisation of the manufacturing process. It has since been applied to services and newer forms of industry.

The 5 whys technique is remarkably simple. When a problem arrives, management are asked to consider why this problem occurred by reiterating the question of “why?” for every resulting answer no fewer than five times.

The simplicity of this technique can be better illustrated using a hypothetical example from the sports industry.

Problem: Participation in our sport is falling

1. Why is participation in our sport falling?

Because there is less and less young people replacing older participants leaving the sport through natural attrition.

2. Why are less young people taking up our sport?

The sport is not seen as being exciting enough.

3. Why is the sport not seen as being exciting? We have revolutionised our sport presentation and that of our elite events to make them more attractive to this target audience.

Because this generation is not aware of this new and exciting approach to our events and to our sport.

4. Why are they not aware?

Because they are not being reached by our communications detailing these new initiatives.

5. Why are they not being reached by our communications?

Because younger individuals are not consuming the type of media upon which we are active. They are engaging far more with social and newer forms of media regarding their consumption of sport.

Corrective Action: We need to divert our resources away from communicating via traditional media channels and invest in social media platforms going forward.

This simplistic hypothetical example above can be applied to a host of various situations and works best when as many members of the areas that the problem effects are present for the process. Despite being overly simplistic to be practical, this example can help illustrate the utility of the 5 Whys techniques for managers, especially in environments where time and resources are at a premium. This is an environment that we encounter more often than not in our dealings with clients in the sports industry and as a result, the 5 Whys could serve as a simple but effective tool to assist management realise their organisational goals and objectives.

This article was originally published by our partner TSE Consulting and was titled "Management problem solving tools – The 5 Whys". To read the original article in full click here.

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