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Extension > Agriculture > Dairy Extension > Business tools and budgeting > Why, How come, So what: Powerful words to solve problems

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Why, How come, So what: Powerful words to solve problems

Jim Salfer

There is a bestselling book by Robert Fulghum titled "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten". People who have read the book can relate to the fact that we learn a lot about how to live a successful life when we are very young. If you follow recommendations in solving business problems, you would be best served by listening to three year olds. "Why", "How come" and "So what" are favorite questions all young children use when "helping" adults. Their minds are full of curiosity about how the world works. These are the same principles recommended when solving business problems.

The 5 why's is a commonly recommended business practice when solving a problem or doing a "root cause" analysis. This problem solving tool was developed by Toyota Corporation in the 1950's to improve their production efficiency. The specific steps involve:

  1. Write down the specific problem and get everyone to agree on it;
  2. Ask why the problem is occurring;
  3. Keep asking "why" until it appears the root cause of the problem has been identified.

Let's use an example on a farm. The problem is that cows are consistently ending up in the wrong pen after the night milking.

  1. Why are cows ending up in the wrong pen during the night milking?
    • A: Because the 1st milking group is not completely in the pen and cows from the next group enter before the gate is closed.
  2. Why is the gate not getting closed in time during the night milking only?
    • A:Because the person responsible for closing the gate is scraping manure from the second pen and is not getting the gate closed in time.
  3. Why is manure sometimes being scraped while the 2nd pen is getting milked?
    • A: Because during the night shift, the person scraping is responsible for checking the calving pens and assisting in calving.
  4. Why does it take so long to check the calving cows?
    • A: Because the calving pens are in another building and it takes time to assist with a birth.

This might be a simple example, but in this situation you only get to 4 why's and the cause is clearly a lack of time on the night shift to scrape pens and observe calving pens. The goal of this exercise is not to blame someone, but to uncover the root cause of the problem. It works well because it is a rapid method of getting to the root of the issue. It is important to keep asking "why" until no one can come up with another potential reason for the problem.

The 5 why's only identify the problem. The next step in the process is to identify a solution. How do you determine which is the best? This is where the "How" is used. How do we solve the problem? Again - it is best to brainstorm several solutions. I think 5 different how's will be enough solutions for almost every problem. In this example it might be to install cameras in the parlor or office so that the milking crew can monitor. It might be to better communicate with the people in the milking pit when calving assistance is needed. There could be a new employee dedicated to the calving area during the night milking or only check them after the night shift is done milking.

All of the solutions listed above seem viable. The next step is to select the potentially best solution. To solve this the "Morris 5 So What" analysis can help find the best solution. This tool can be used to troubleshoot potential solutions. All potential solutions will have tradeoffs. The goal of this analysis is to determine the impact (so what) of the solutions. The "so what" analysis was developed by the Army as it was trying to evaluate the impact of multiple solutions to a problem. The "so what" should be evaluated for every solution. What will be the economic impact (installing cameras vs hiring someone), performance impact (will death loss and dam outcome be improved with any of the solutions), morale and stress of employees and owners (from minimizing the risk of mixing and sorting cows). A best solution can be determined If all of the potential impacts are thought about and measured.

One big advantage of having a systematic approach to problem solving is that it eliminates the finger pointing and blame. If it is a personnel problem, it will become apparent and the issue can be addressed, but many times it is a problem with training or time management. Following 5 why's, how and so what until the best solution is determined will help solve most problems on farms.

December 2015

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