How do you identify and prioritize improvements within your organization?

Last week, I wrote about the 5 Whys method, which is used to dig down to the root cause of problems experienced within your organization or by your customers. Recall that this method is about asking “Why?” five times to drill down to the ultimate cause. You can adapt this process to your needs; sometimes asking “Why?” five times is too many, and sometimes you need to ask it more than five times.

Once you’ve determined the root cause, the next step is to identify how you’re going to fix that so that it never happens again. Some people recommend coming up with five “hows” or five solutions. Once you’ve got a set of viable solution options, you’ll need to narrow that down to your next best action. And yes, there’s a “5” for that, as well: the Morris 5 So Whats.

What is that? According to

The 5 So What approach goes beyond the 5 Whys. It challenges advocates of improvements and solutions to answer the question “So what?” By the time practitioners ask and answer “So what?” five times in response to the impact of a potential solution, they will reach a maximum impact. (In some cases it may take even fewer questions.) The impact of different solutions can then be weighed against each other to assist in prioritizing the implementation of solutions that best support organizational goals or customer requirements.

The 5 So Whats methodology was developed by the U.S. Army to move beyond uncovering root causes to actually implementing ideal, impactful improvements. The approach: after you’ve determined the root cause, ask “So what?” five times (or as many times as you need) in order to determine the optimal solution.

When you conduct a So What exercise, you’re really trying to understand the importance and the impact of implementing a solution. Consider financial impact, outcomes impact, customer impact, employee impact, environmental impact, efficiency impact, etc. There are probably other impacts to consider, but once you look at the various impacts side by side, you can create some sort of feasibility rating that then allows you to prioritize improvement opportunities.

To me, it seems like a smart exercise to do with any improvements that you plan to make. So what? Who does it impact? What does it mean for each stakeholder? How does it impact each one? What does it mean for the business?

Only dead fish go with the flow. -Andy Hunt