by Lisa Pustelak, NWIRC Strategic Business Advisor and Employee Development Specialist

Sometimes it seems much easier to put a bandage on a problem and move on to the other ten things we have on our desk or out on the shop floor. However, a few days or months later, that same problem is back. We have not solved anything; we just delayed implementing a sustainable solution.When you create a culture where effective problem solving is not only taught but also encouraged, you will not only save time but will also increase productivity.

The 5 Whys from Toyota is a great problem-solving strategy and helps us get to the root cause of a problem. The concept goes like this…when a problem arises, ask ‘why’ at least 5 times. One of the key components for this strategy to work is to question the people who are directly involved in the problem. For example, if the problem is in the quality of one of the parts you make, your first instinct may be to ask the team leader or supervisor. You will be better served to ask the front line operator who is directly involved in the process. Asking why five times is important, but asking the right people is just as critical.

In addition to asking the questions, it’s imperative to get out from behind the desk and go see the operations yourself. Go out on the floor and ask questions and see first-hand where the problem lies. If the problem is in the office, do the same thing, go and observe what is actually happening with your own eyes. Do not rely on your team simply telling you what’s wrong. Go out and investigate it yourself. When possible, ask them to show you. We all have our own ways of viewing things and sometimes we get stuck on our own viewpoint.

By using the 5 Whys and going out to see the problem for yourself, you move into the solution phase sooner and may also learn more about your people and what is really happening in your company. The most effective and efficient teams have leaders who are able to transfer their own knowledge and skills to those who report to them. For your team to become great problem- solvers, you must first be able to show them how.

Side note: Lisa is teaching a Critical Thinking/Problem Solving session on October 30 from 8:30am-4:30pm in Meadville. More info at