Nothing depresses me more than going into organisations and hearing that ‘he is rubbish,’ or ‘she is to blame’ for something going wrong. Fingers point everywhere, mostly downwards, and ultimately very little is learned that can be taken forward to improve things and ensure that the same mistakes don’t happen again in the future.

Many a time, I am called in to organisations to solve this problem or that problem when ‘this and that’ are not the problems at all. They are merely the symptoms of much deeper problems. And while the symptoms may appear to be quite different in places, trace them back to the roots and you will nearly always find one common problem/area is causing everything. And, its rarely what the management team think it is. 

There are a number of tools that consultants use to get to the root cause of issues, but by far the simplest, and the one which any organisation can use with ease to effectively diagnose their problems is the 5 Why Analysis method. In actuality, the number often exceeds 5 Whys – but the number 5 is a good guide to make sure the questioning goes deep enough.


So how does 5-Why Analysis work?

Problem: A key client moves their account to another company

  1. Why?

Mistakes were being made on a regular basis and were only being picked up by the client

  1. Why were mistakes being made?

The project manager did not have the experience necessary to run the project.

  1. Why was the project manager assigned to the client without having the relevant experience?

There was no other resource available. 

  1. Why did the project managers direct supervisor not provide support?

The project manager’s direct supervisor recently left the organisation and has yet to be replaced

  1. Why were the mistakes not picked up by anyone else in the organisation?

There was not sufficient resource available to check all the work before it went out – everyone is struggling to keep their heads above water

Clearly here the issue is that the management team has not ensured there are enough resources available of a sufficient standard to supply the product or service to their clients.

But this leads onto more questions

  1. Why was a suitable replacement not found for the Supervisor once he/she resigned?

The Supervisor was only on 1 months’ notice and there was not sufficient time to recruit a suitably experienced replacement

  1. Why was the project manager not trained sufficiently to manage the client’s project? 

It was planned for, but work always got in the way

This leads to a further management team issue around HR strategy (including notice whether notice periods at all levels are adequate) and highlights both a lack of succession planning; lack of focus on ensuring that staff are properly trained to do their jobs and best HR practice.

So, this leads to more questions

  1. Why does the management team not recruit more experienced staff; review the contracts and ensure a robust training and succession programme is in place?

There is no budget available for any more staff or for external training to be provided (internally there is no capacity).

  1. Why is there not sufficient budget available when staff are all so busy working on client work?

The organisation isn’t charging sufficiently to cover the hours necessary to provide the service and/or the processes aren’t sufficiently streamlined to facilitate the work effectively?

  1. Why is the organisation not charging what it costs to deliver the work?

– Because precedents have been set in order to win business and these precedents in hourly/daily charges are now hard to break.

– Because the management team, who set the pricing, is not aware how long it actually takes to manage each project (whilst team sheets are completed they are not analysed against the jobs as there is no-one available to do this).

– Because the management team have previously believed the tardiness is due to worker incompetence and attitude!


Finally, we get to the root cause. This business is ultimately not profitable in its current shape and form and serious analysis needs to take place around the organisation’s value proposition and the cost of service.

OK so other models and tools will be helpful here for you to diagnose what needs changing – but at least you can now focus on the right areas that need your attention.

Now this is not palatable for the management team to hear and it is often why it is easier to not fully investigate problems. But unless the root cause is found – nothing, aside personnel, will change within the organisation. Clients  will continue to leave, and the business will be in trouble.

Check the 5-Why tool out in your organisation. It works on problems large and small – and will soon reveal what the root cause is of any issue that is causing you concern.

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