As SLPs or educators, we are no strangers to problem solving. In fact, we probably do this several times a day when it comes to dealing with our students, parents, and co-workers. The 5 Why strategy was developed by Sakichi Toyoda, to get to the bottom of problems. He was a leader in Japanese industry and the founder of Toyota. I think he knew what he was talking about.
The 5 why strategy works like this…you determine a problem, then ask the question ‘why’ at least 5 times to try to find the root cause. Sounds easy enough right? Sometimes, we (human beings) let our emotions and experiences cloud our judgment, which can lead to ineffective problem solving skills. This can create that bang-your-head-against-the-wall situation we sometimes feel when trying to fix things. The 5 why strategy can be helpful, as long as you are being 1) honest, 2) objective, 3) not trying to find someone to blame.
Looking at an example from my own work…
Problem: I am 6 months behind in Medicaid billing.
Why? I haven’t billed since January.
Why? I put it off.
Why? It takes up a lot of time that I would rather spend doing other things to prepare for my students.
Why? Using paperwork time to prep for students seems more beneficial for them.
Why? I’m meeting their needs, rather than billing which has no direct impact on them.
So now I know that I avoid billing Medicaid like the plague because I don’t really feel like it serves my students. But, it is still an important part of my job, so I will create paperwork time that is non-negotiable.
You can use this method to take a closer look at problems with interventions for students too…
Problem? Timmy plays alone at recess everyday.
Why? He doesn’t ask anyone to play with him and none of his peers initiate play with him.
Why? Timmy has trouble interacting with peers.
Why? He doesn’t use greetings or ask questions to invite his peers to play.
Why? He doesn’t know what to say.
Why? He has a social communication skill deficit and needs to be taught the language to use in these situations.
Now we know that Timmy could use some scripting or social skills instruction to learn how to engage with his peers on the playground. Obviously, this is an easy example that may not require these steps, but think about some of those harder cases you have… do you think 5 whys would help? This strategy could also be very useful to engage in dialogue with teachers when helping students be successful in the classroom.
AND…what about teaching this strategy to our students? This could definitely be a strategy to help them start using their critical thinking skills and asking questions to solve problems…hello, common core.
Overall, 5 Whys certainly not the only way to find the root cause of a problem, but it definitely a great strategy to add to your toolbox! What do you think?