Sometimes it is ‘obvious’ what our problem is and so the answer is obvious too. This may very well be the case, but just in case it is not or perhaps to uncover a better solution we might need to uncover the real reason for something going wrong.
Problems and issues also tend to be multi layered and we have to scratch below the surface to work out what is really happening. Be careful when using it as continuously asking someone else ‘Why?’ may make them defensive.
Imagine the simple scenario ‘sales are falling’. One possible assumption might be that our sales people are no good at their job so we might replace them or retrain them. First, let us ask ‘Why?’
Q. Why are sales falling?
A. Because customers don’t like our products
Q. Why don’t they like our products?
A. Because they are outdated, not as cool as this year’s model
Q. Why are our products outdated?
A. Because we have not developed any new ones for 5 years
Q. Why have we not done this before?
A. Because the boss has not allowed us
Q. Why has the boss behaved in this way?
A. Because they have no spare time to spend
In this simple example our initial assumption of having a poor sales force is incorrect, the underlying issue is that the boss (possibly you!) has no time either because of high workload or poor time management. We can also see that the issue has multiple layers and unless the issues at lower layers are resolved then our initial problem is unlikely to be properly resolved.
You could thus use this for:
- Identifying the need for a new product or service
- Determining why your competitors are more attractive to customers
- Asking why your costs are higher than they should be
… and many more.