How to conquer the backlog of dossiers? Find the root cause with the 5 Whys approach. - Skryv

How to conquer the backlog of dossiers? Find the root cause with the 5 Whys approach.

By Thomas De Keyser - Functional Analyst - over 4 years ago

Digital Gov project
How to conquer the backlog of dossiers? Find the root cause with the 5 Whys approach.

The head of the department asks you to find a solution for the piling backlog of dossiers. You are excited to get going, but where do you start?

You want to start by finding the root cause of the problem. A key mistake managers make is treating the symptoms of a problem instead of tackling its root cause. Many techniques can help you find the root cause, e.g. Pareto charts, fishbone diagrams… But do not forget the easy and yet effective method: the “5 Whys” approach.

What's 5 whys?

As the name suggests, you need to ask why over and over again, much like a toddler. This might seem stupid at first, but it forces you not to make any assumptions about the underlying issue. This way you will be able to capture much more information from all stakeholders involved. Which will, in turn, allow you to make a better assessment of the problem at hand.

Depending on your problem or the answers you receive, it might be needed to ask “Why” a couple more times. Less is however very rare, except for the simplest of problems.

An example: backlog of dossiers

Let’s look at an example. Your government agency has a huge backlog of premium requests. You want to analyse why, so you decide to use the 5 Whys approach.

“We have a huge backlog of files”

  • Why? Dossiers keep piling up.
  • Why? We receive 200 dossiers per day but are only processing 140 per day.
  • Why? The productivity of the case manager has decreased from 10 to 7 dossiers a day.
  • Why? Treating dossiers has become a lot more difficult.
  • Why? There are a lot of exceptions in the new ruleset.

Because of the complexity of the ruleset, evaluating dossiers takes more time, which results in a piling backlog. Based on this analysis you may decide to invest in rule automation to accelerate the treatment process and support the case managers. It will allow the case managers to spend more time treating dossiers instead of figuring out the rules. This example demonstrates why using the 5 Whys approach is a great way to analyse problems in your business process.

Without the 5 Whys, you might have decided that your head of department needed to hire more employees. This would not have solved the root cause of the problem, as there was no capacity problem but it was the complex ruleset that slowed down the progress. The 5 Whys approach forces you to keep asking questions which allowed you to identify the root cause of the problem. Knowing the root cause, you were able to find a much more efficient solution to the problem.

Key takeaways

Analyzing a problem is not an easy thing to do. Most of the time there are a lot of different stakeholders and not all knowledge is readily available. When using the 5 Whys approach you cannot make any assumptions about the problem beforehand. This allows you to get a better understanding of the environment you are in.

What do you think?

Do you feel like you know a bit more about how you can find the root cause of a problem? What questions do you have about the 5 whys approach and defining a problem in general? Send us an email or leave us a message.

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