November 1, 2005 | Mark Paradies

Why Asking “Why?” Doesn’t Work – November 1998 – Root Cause Network Newsletter

I found it!

I knew I had written an article about 5-Why’s in the Root Cause Network Newsletter, but I couldn’t find it.

Today I went through our archives by hand (I had already tried a computer search) and sure enough, it was there! Written seven years ago … no wonder people don’t remember it.

Click on the link below for a short article about WHY you shouldn’t ask WHY 5 times.

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NOVEMBER 1998 — Root Cause Network(TM) Newsletter

Why Asking “Why?” Doesn’t Work By Mark Paradies

Lately I’ve seen articles about the best way to find root causes. They tell people to ask “Why?” 5 times or to use a slightly more structured method: ask why and then draw a Cause & Effect Diagram (not to be confused with an E&CF Chart).

They say that these methods are superior to TapRooT(R). I can’t stand to see such nonsense in print! Let me explain just 3 (of many) reasons why these techniques can lead investigators astray.

Reason 1: You should never ask “Why?” in an interview.

Why? Because asking “Why?” causes people to become defensive. They justify their actions rather than communicating what they observed (the main point of an interview). If your main analysis technique is asking “Why?”, you are doomed to bad interviews. Bad interviews lead to bad investigations.

Reason 2: Cause & Effect Analysis can’t get you past what you already know.

Cause & Effect Analysis (a self made causal tree) was invented by Socrates. He used it as a basic reasoning tool. He knew its limitations. To define a cause and effect relationship one must have already observed the cause produce the effect. If one has never observed the cause produce the effect, one can’t develop a Cause and Effect Diagram.

Also, if there are many potential causes and the investigator has only experienced (or only has knowledge of) a few, then the investigator is likely to pick the cause that he/she is familiar with even if it isn’t the proper cause. I call this the “Favorite Cause Syndrome.”

Reason 3: You need structure to trend.

Asking “Why?” has no stucture. So forget about measuring your progress (i.e. no trending).

So what should you do?

Don’t be led astray! Use TapRooT(R).

It has the structure, the embedded knowledge, and the questions to go beyond other techniques.

Root Cause Analysis
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