Five Hows and Barriers to Implementing Change

by Joe Havelick 21. November 2011 12:43

Envisioning change, whether it is in our personal or business plans, is often the first step to making it happen. But what I find is that many changes don't materialize because we fail to go beyond that. Many significant changes, whether tangible, like banking $4 mil., or intangible, like changing a company culture, need to be broken down into smaller discrete steps. This seems totally obvious when we talk about it outside the context of a problem, but how many times have you tried to implement change simply by building a vision, possibly sharing it, and then "working hard" at it without direct and measurable plans?

The concept of Five Whys has been popularized as a problem solving technique used by lean processes. If you have not heard of this, it essentially involves asking why a problem exists, which derives a new problem, and repeating that process 5 times. The theoretical advantage of this is that it helps persons determine the root cause of an issue, so that it can be dealt with, rather than just the symptom.

But what if we were to use this for planning? What if we made it the Five Hows? Let's take an example from above. How am I going to make $4 mil.? Well, I might decide that I am going to make it through investing. How? Well, I need to learn a whole lot about investing. How? Well, you get the idea.

Now, this brings to light a couple issues. First, do I even have a good plan here, since I don't even know enough about investing to know whether my plan is reasonable. Well great. it's better to acknowledge and address these issues before you spend time going down a path with no map. Second, there is a major problem with the Five Whys that also applies to the Five Hows. It doesn't address the complex nature of the problem at hand. Just as you cannot predictably cause a tsunami by flapping a butterfly wing, an effect rarely boils down to a single cause.

There is a solution. Instead of looking at the Five Whys or the Five Hows as a chain relationship (one-to-one), look at them as a tree (one to many). There is one trunk (the problem), that leads up to many branches (hows), and each branch has many sub branches, etc. The same is true with the roots (whys). Again, this seems obvious, but how many times, when problem solving, do you just take the first solution and run with it. So, the technique I use is to simply say "Okay, we have one solution, but what if that wasn't an option. What would we do then?" For each Why or How, expect to come up with three to five answers before moving on. Don't discount options that seem less valuable at that point in time, because you may find out, further down the chain, that your preferred option may not be as feasible as you think.

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