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