Sep 19, 2012

Five Whys for StartUps

Root cause analysis and preventive maintenance are concepts we expect to see in a factory setting. Start-ups supposedly don't have time for detailed processes and procedures. And yet the key to startup speed is to maintain a disciplined approach to testing and evaluating new products, features, and ideas. As start-ups scale, this agility will be lost unless the founders maintain a consistent investment in that discipline. Techniques from lean manufacturing can be part of a startup's innovation culture.
One such technique is called Five Whys, which has its origins in the Toyota Production System, and posits that behind every supposedly technical problem is actually a human problem. Applied to a start-up, here's how it works:

  1. A new release broke a key feature for customers. Why? Because a particular server failed.
  2. Why did the server fail? Because an obscure subsystem was used in the wrong way.
  3. Why was it used in the wrong way? The engineer who used it didn't know how to use it properly.
  4. Why didn't he know? Because he was never trained.
  5. Why wasn't he trained? Because his manager doesn't believe in training new engineers, because they are "too busy."

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