As a business owner in a highly competitive industry, I am always seeking ways to improve the productivity, and profitability, of my business which refurbishes and customizes PC’s. I was speaking to one of my longtime clients recently, a former corporate executive, when he began telling me about Six Sigma and the 5 Whys.
Six Sigma, in case you are not familiar with the term, was developed by Motorola in 1986 (when I was very young). It’s a process used to continuously monitor and improve different aspects of a business. The iconic American businessman, Jack Welch, made Six Sigma a central part of General Electric when he was CEO of the company in 1995.
While it was initially geared toward tech companies, the basic principles of Six Sigma can be applied to almost any operation to order to increase productivity and profitability. Its principles are used in many industries today.
He explained to me that as the founder of the Six Sigma Black Belt program, he had mentored and trained other companies around the world.
The “5 Whys,” my client said, is a part of the Analyze phase of the Six Sigma DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) methodology, a specific problem solving technique. This process delves into a problem by looking five levels deep to find its root cause.
I was curious to try this technique. When I was contacted by a local business owner who was having technology problems at his inbound call center based in the Philippines, I decided to put the “5 Whys” to a test.
His call center, he said, has 150 employees who provide virtual assistance and other services to a global clientele. His clients were complaining that the workers were “slow.”
I first asked why his clients were saying the workers were “slow.” He explained that many of his employees weren’t meeting their expectations in terms of productivity.
“Why do you think this happening?” He said his company’s IT infrastructure was having networking issues and their equipment often couldn’t handle the workload.
“Why do you think you are having networking issues?” He explained that they didn’t have a stable internet connection and their computer equipment was also running slowly. Out of date firmware and other issues were also at play.
I next asked, “Why are you having internet problems? He went on to say that the area where the call center is located experiences frequent power outages. He also couldn’t rely on their local IT firm to support his needs, and was he having problems find reliable computer suppliers.
Finally, “Why can’t the suppliers support your needs?” The local IT providers didn’t have the right equipment or expertise.
As the conversation continued, I had a completely new understanding of what was needed. What I first thought was a simple product upgrade turned out to be more involved.
My team researched reliable equipment with extended battery life so that workers were able to be productive during power outages. We also found that by having equipment with up to date firmware and software we were able to improve their connectivity and speed issues. Problem solved.
So why, as business owners, do we not ask more questions?
For any business, juggling the demands of clients, suppliers, family – it’s easy to take the path of least resistance. It’s easy not ask the hard questions and quickly come to an assumption about what is needed.
What I found though this exercise, however, is that the in-depth questions, and more importantly, by really listening to the answers, we can make solid decisions when working with customers.
So in one hour, I discovered that by asking 5 questions that we were able to solve a problem. This company has purchased many computers from me since this initial fact finding session.
I’m glad I asked.
Let me know if you use Six Sigma or the “5 Whys” in your business.