March 5, 2018

Agile Coach Toolkit #1: 5 Whys

" "

As an Agile Coach, you frequently encounter situations which demand quick thinking to get things moving in the right direction. Over time I have found few techniques which come out handy and always keep these in my playbook in case need arise. This is first part in the series of tools that I have found useful in my role as Agile Coach – 5 Whys.

Brief History – This technique was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and was used within the Toyota Motor Corporation during the evolution of its manufacturing methodologies. It is a critical component of problem-solving training, delivered as part of the induction into the Toyota Production System.

Purpose – 5 whys can be used for:

  1. Root Cause Analysis during Sprint Retrospectives
  2. Identifying impediments

Description – Discuss with team members to look at the issue and ask “Why?” up to five times to get beyond habitual thinking. It is imperative to distinguish causes from symptoms and pay attention to the logic of cause-and-effect relationship to identify the root cause. Be empirical in the investigation by leveraging the facts for decision-making.

Example – An issue identified is “poor Sprint Planning”. Let’s find the root cause for this problem.

  • “Why was Sprint Planning poor”?
    • “Well, we did not have a clear objective and the PBIs were not ‘Ready’
  • “Why were the PBIs not ‘Ready’”?
    • “The team did not meet for Product Backlog Refinement meetings”
  • “Why did the team not meet?
    • “Yes, we were supposed to meet on Thursday from 4 to 6pm, but the CEO called for an impromptu All-hands at the same time”
  • “Why wasn’t the meeting re-scheduled”?
    • “Well, there is no owner for the meeting”

So the real root cause for poor Sprint Planning was no accountability of the Product Backlog Refinement meetings. It is very important to identify the root cause, come out with action items for improvement, identify an accountable person from the Scrum Team and agree on the expected time frame for putting the improvements into practice.

Have you used this technique to identify the root cause of any problems? If yes, please share your story.

 

References

Scrum Insights for Practitioners – Hiren Doshi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_Whys - Wikipedia

Agile Retrospectives – Esther Derby, Diana Larsen