Being Lean: Asking the Question ‘Why’ 5 Times

Go Lean Commentary

“The Caribbean is arguably the greatest address on the planet”, as declared in the book Go Lean…Caribbean. (This “greatest” attribute is defined for terrain, culture and hospitality). Yet the region has an unconscious-able brain drain rate, where 70 percent of the tertiary-educated population has fled.


This question has been asked repeatedly! Many times the published answers are really describing the symptoms and not the root-causes. In the end, the answer is not so easy! The Go Lean book defines it as heavy-lifting. The Go Lean approach is an examination of the word “Lean”. In the book the word is presented as a noun, a verb and an adjective; all inclusive of the agile concept. The lean/agile concept is an understanding that value is a derived-result from a continuously optimizing key process, that repeats as a cycle .. again and again.

The Go Lean book (Page 4) relates that …

… lean thinking changes the focus of management from optimizing separate technologies, assets, and vertical departments to optimizing the flow of products and services through entire value streams that flow horizontally across technologies, assets, and departments to customers.

One expression of the lean methodology that can be used to dissect/”add value” to the key question (” Why such a high brain drain rate”) in this commentary is the iterative interrogative technique: 5 Why’s. See details of this agile-lean technique below. Using this technique, the 5 Why’s needs to be extended to 7 actual Why questions, as follows:

Problem: Why do Caribbean citizens abandon their homelands?

  1. “Push and Pull” reasons. “Push”, as in people fleeing to find refuge and “pull” in the perception (though false) that life is better on foreign shores. Why?
  2. Societal defects – in the region – are so acute. Why?
  3. Societal engines (responsible for economics, security & governance) not optimized. Why?
  4. Colonial Masters did not engage best-practices. Why?
  5. Foreign Policy in the colonies was to just keep them dependent. Why?
  6. Colonizers promoted home country commerceMercantilism; slavery in the colonies, but not at home (i.e. Serfism, French Revolution). Why?
  7. European Community Ethos: OK to exploit African Race as declared by Pope Innocent VIII.

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See the encyclopedic details and a related VIDEO here:

Reference Title: 5 Whys
Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia – Retrieved 04/07/2016 from:

5 Whys is an iterative interrogative technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem.[1] The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question “Why?” Each question forms the basis of the next question. The “5” in the name derives from an empirical observation on the number of iterations typically required to resolve the problem.

The technique was formally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and was used within the Toyota Motor Corporation during the evolution of its manufacturing methodologies. In other companies, it appears in other forms. Under Ricardo Semler, Semco practices “three whys” and broadens the practice to cover goal setting and decision making.[2]

Not all problems have a single root cause. If one wishes to uncover multiple root causes, the method must be repeated asking a different sequence of questions each time.

The method provides no hard and fast rules about what lines of questions to explore, or how long to continue the search for additional root causes. Thus, even when the method is closely followed, the outcome still depends upon the knowledge and persistence of the people involved.


The questioning for this example could be taken further to a sixth, seventh, or higher level, but five iterations of asking why is generally sufficient to get to a root cause. The key is to encourage the trouble-shooter to avoid assumptions and logic traps and instead trace the chain of causality in direct increments from the effect through any layers of abstraction to a root cause that still has some connection to the original problem. Note that, in this example, the fifth why suggests a broken process or an alterable behaviour, which is indicative of reaching the root-cause level.

It is interesting to note that the last answer points to a process. This is one of the most important aspects in the 5 Why approach – the real root cause should point toward a process that is not working well or does not exist.[3] Untrained facilitators will often observe that answers seem to point towards classical answers such as not enough time, not enough investments, or not enough manpower. These answers may be true, but they are out of our control. Therefore, instead of asking the question why?, ask why did the process fail?

A key phrase to keep in mind in any 5 Why exercise is “people do not fail, processes do”.

Rules of performing “5 Whys”

In order to carry out the 5-Why analysis properly, following advices should be kept:

  1. It is necessary to engage the management in 5 Whys standard in the company. For the analysis itself, remember about right working group. Also consider facilitator presence for more difficult topics.
  2. Use paper or whiteboard instead of computers.
  3. Write down the problem and make sure that all people understand it.
  4. Distinguish causes from symptoms.
  5. Take care of the logic of cause-and-effect relationship.
  6. Make sure that root causes certainly lead to the mistake by reversing the sentences created as a result of the analysis with the use of expression “and therefore”.
  7. Try to make our answers more precise.
  8. Look for the cause step by step. Don’t jump to conclusions.
  9. Base on facts and knowledge.
  10. Assess the process, not people.
  11. Never leave “human error”, “worker’s inattention”, etc. as the root cause.
  12. Take care of the atmosphere of trust and sincerity.
  13. Ask the question “why” until the root cause is determined, i.e. such cause the elimination of which will cause that the error will not occur again.[7]


While the 5 Whys is a powerful tool for engineers or technically savvy individuals to help get to the true causes of problems, it has been criticized … as being too basic a tool to analyze root causes to the depth that is needed to ensure that they are fixed.[8] Reasons for this criticism include:

  • Tendency for investigators to stop at symptoms rather than going on to lower-level root causes.
  • Inability to go beyond the investigator’s current knowledge – cannot find causes that they do not already know.
  • Lack of support to help the investigator ask the right “why” questions.
  • Results are not repeatable – different people using 5 Whys come up with different causes for the same problem.
  • Tendency to isolate a single root cause, whereas each question could elicit many different root causes.

These can be significant problems when the method is applied through deduction only. On-the-spot verification of the answer to the current “why” question before proceeding to the next is recommended to avoid these issues. In addition, performing logical tests for necessity and sufficiency at each level can help avoid the selection of spurious causes and promote the consideration of multiple root causes.[9]

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VIDEO – 5 Whys Root Cause Analysis Problem Solving Tool–Video Training –

Uploaded on Jul 23, 2009 – The 5 Whys (Free 6-Page PDF at ) is one of the simplest problem solving tools used in Lean manufacturing and Lean offices. This presentation shows how to use the 5 Whys, and what to watch out for. Created and presented by Jeff Hajek of Velaction Continuous Improvement.
Category: How to & Style
License: Standard YouTube License

Wow, the root cause “Why Caribbean citizens abandon their homelands” is tied to the community ethos and embedded racial inequalities in the ancient European world. Now that we know – thanks to the iterative interrogative technique – we can deploy new community ethos plus new strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies to turn-around Caribbean failings into opportunities for success.

The Go Lean book identifies Toyota Motor Company as a role model for deploying agile/lean methodologies in delivering quality. Quality delivery is a mission of the Go Lean movement. The book serves as a roadmap for the introduction and implementation for the technocratic Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU). As a federal government, there will be the need to employ agile/lean methodologies to ensure that a small organizational footprint can provide the facilitations to enhance the region’s economic, security and governing engines. For a regional population of 42 million, the plan is to only engage 30,000 federal civil servants, but with a lot of systems and agile methodologies. That is lean!

By being lean, the stewards of this new Caribbean can fulfill the Go Lean vision: a better region to live, work and play. In the end, we would dissuade the brain drain, and then eventually invite the Diaspora to return, to repatriate to their ancestral homelands.

The Go Lean book was constructed with community ethos – national spirit that drives the character and identity of its people – in mind, plus the execution of strategies, tactics, implementation and advocacies to keep the regional government lean. The following is a sample of these specific details from the book:

Preface – Use of “Lean” in the Public Sphere Page 4
Community Ethos – Deferred Gratification Page 21
Community Ethos – Economic Principles – Economic Systems Influence Individual Choices Page 21
Community Ethos – Economic Principles – The Consequences of Choices Lie in the Future Page 21
Community Ethos – Governing Principles – Lean Operations Page 24
Community Ethos – Ways to Impact the Future Page 26
Community Ethos – Ways to Help Entrepreneurship – Incubators Page 28
Community Ethos – Ways to Impact Research & Development Page 30
Community Ethos – Ways to Improve Sharing Page 35
Community Ethos – Ways to Promote Happiness Page 36
Community Ethos – Ways to Impact the Greater Good Page 37
Strategy – Mission – Build and foster local economic engines Page 45
Tactical –  Separation of Powers: Federal Administration versus Member-States Governance Page 71
Implementation – Ways to Pay for Change Page 101
Implementation – Reasons to Repatriate to the Caribbean Page 118
Planning – Ways to Make the Caribbean Better Page 131
Advocacy – Ways to Grow the Economy Page 151
Advocacy – Ways to Create Jobs Page 152
Advocacy – Ways to Improve Governance in the Caribbean Region Page 168
Advocacy – Ways to Better Manage the Social Contract Page 170
Advocacy – Ways to Improve Leadership Page 171
Advocacy – Ways to Manage Federal Civil Service Page 173
Advocacy – Ways to Impact the Diaspora Page 217
Advocacy – Ways to Preserve Caribbean Heritage Page 218

The Go Lean roadmap presents the CU as a real organizational structure. So all the references in the foregoing encyclopedic reference regarding agile-lean organizations, enterprises, companies and/or firms could apply directly and indirectly to the CU Trade Federation. Yet, the federal agencies and civil servants are not the only focus of the Go Lean/CU roadmap. The prime directives of this roadmap is to reach out into the community and impact the societal engines in these ways:

  • Optimization of the economic engines in order to grow the regional economy to $800 Billion & create 2.2 million new jobs.
  • Establishment of a security apparatus to protect the resultant economic engines.
  • Improve Caribbean governance to support these engines.

Previously, Go Lean blogs detailed other opportunities to deploy agile methodologies. Consider this sample: Methodology for going from ‘Good to Great “Live. Work. Play. Repeat” – Need for Agile Rewards program Case Study of a Lean Utility to Assuage Excessively Hot Weather Art and Science of Collaboration The formal process of Making a Great Place to Work® Go Green Caribbean – Pursuits for Lean energy in the region

The message to the people of the Caribbean region is that the Caribbean’s past is not to be the Caribbean’s future. The catalyst for change in the Caribbean is the CU. This “heavy-lifting” task to implement agile/lean methodologies in the Caribbean is the charter of the CU technocracy.

Now is the time for all Caribbean stakeholders – residents, Diaspora, businesses and institutions – to lean-in for the optimizations and empowerments described in the book Go Lean … Caribbean. Yes, we can make the region a better homeland to live, work and play. 🙂

Download the book Go Lean … Caribbean – now!

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