By David Patrishkoff

Do you want to be a better problem solver? Learn how to correctly use these 5 questions to get to the root cause of a problem at your organization: Who, What, When, Where and Why? Not all problem solving questions are created equal. After you have created a problem solving team, brainstorm with your team to ask these 5 questions several times so you know where the problem is concentrated (Who, What, When Where) as well as what the root cause is (Why).

1. Brainstorm by asking Who to get to the different groups of people that can show you who is associated with the problem the most often or ask the question of who could possibly contribute more to the problem than others. We are not asking Who to blame people, we want to blame the process, never the people. Typical Who questions will have you asking which groups of people might be associated with the problem. Here are some examples of targeted Who groups:

bull; Work shift bull; Operators / Employees bull; Work Crews bull; Customer bull; Supplier bull; Etc.

2. Brainstorm by asking What to get to the different groups that are more associated with the problem. Here are some examples of targeted What groups:

bull; Product bull; Product family bull; Product type bull; Defect / error type / fault code bull; Department bull; Machine bull; Weather bull; Etc.

3. Brainstorm by asking When the problem occurs most often. Typical When questions will have you asking what times were associated with the problem. Here are some examples of targeted When groups:

bull; Date, season, month, week, day of the week, shift, hour, minute, second bull; Last repair event time or date bull; Last time since _____ event? Fill in the blanks with multiple examples for your situation. bull; Last holiday bull; Etc.

4. Brainstorm by asking Where the problem occurs most often. Typical where questions will have you asking where the problem happened. Here are some examples of targeted Where groups:

bull; Country, region, state, city, county, office, factory, manufacturing line or call center. bull; Where on the parts are the problems? bull; Where on the applications or forms are the problems? bull; Etc.

5. Brainstorm by asking Why the problem occurs. The Why question is the only question that will lead you to the root cause. The previous 4 questions are very useful because when you know the answers to those questions, you will know the hiding places of the problem and under what conditions the problem does or does not happen. The possible list you Why questions is infinite so they will not be listed here.

With the above short introduction to problem solving and root cause analysis, test yourself in your ability to see if you know when the root cause has really been identified. In which of the following 9 cases was the root cause identified?

1. The percentage of errors made at a specific fast food restaurant is twice as high on a Friday compared to any other day of the week. 2. The percentage of errors made at a specific fast food restaurant is twice as high on a Friday compared to any other day of the week, which is the only day that Joe works with drive-through customers. 3. 100% of all errors are created at the first and last hour of business. 4. Supplier Ajax accounts for the 70% of the material that customers complain about. 5. Third Shift has 4 times the defects as shift one and two. 6. The production of Product Beta has 2.5 times the defect rate as any other product. 7. The problem happens 80% of the times on Mondays and on 2nd shift with Supplier Aces material. 8. Crew #5 takes 60% longer to do the work when compared with any other Work Crew. 9. The problem only happens when producing product Zebra, using Supplier Alphas material and when Work Crew 1 is working at the factory.

None of the last 9 cases described instances where the root cause was identified because they did not answer the question Why. They only answered the questions Who, What, When or Where. Just knowing who caused a problem does not tell you Why the problem happened. With what you learned so far, now find out in which of the following 6 cases was the root cause identified?

1. The problem only happens when employees with less than 10 hours of job training are working. 2. It takes Work Crew #5 60% longer to do the same work as compared to any other Work Crew. Work Crew #5 has not had any training in the Standard Operating Procedures yet. 3. The problem happens 100% of the times on 3rd shift but only when operator #364 is present. Operator #364 failed the company eye exam recently. 4. The package damage only happens when forklift drivers with older style forklift blades are moving material in the plant. 5. The problem only happens when producing product Filo, with Supplier Abas material and when Work Crew #1 is working on Production Line 2. Work Crew #1 is the only Work Crew that has not been trained by Supplier Aba on the sensitivities of their new material being used. 6. The problem happens 90% of the time on 2nd shift when the ambient temperature drops below 30 degrees F.

All of the last 6 cases identified the root causes of the problem because they answered the question Why. Skillful and objective problem solving abilities are must have attributes for todays professionals. More and more new job postings prefer or require job seekers to have earned additional training certificates in Lean and Six Sigma problem solving techniques. The problem solving test in this article will get you started to think more logically about problem solving, which is a highly desired attribute of job candidates from companies in many different industries. Taking the time to learn new skills could open up new and unexpected opportunities for you.

David Patrishkoff is President of E3 Extreme Enterprise Efficiencyreg; LLC. He has trained 3,000+ professionals, worldwide from over 55 different industries in a href=http://www.eeefficiency.com/Lean/a, a href=http://www.eeefficiency.com/Six Sigma/a and other advanced problem solving techniques. His proven specialty is the resolution of highly diverse Mission Impossible issues for organizations. http://www.eeefficiency.com/