The Five Whys – Getting to the Root Cause of a Process Problem

September 16, 2014  By Sandra Albert
Autotask is a powerful business-management tool. What it can’t do, however, is fix a broken process. Most of my consulting work addresses this point, and I rely on a tactic I learned using Six Sigma in the hospitality industry. It helps to identify client problems and re-engineer them, so they are able to run their businesses more effectively using Autotask.

Manufacturers developed Six Sigma in the 1980s as a process-improvement methodology to reduce variability — and thereby errors — in processes, and now many other industries use it. A big part of Six Sigma is studying minute statistical variations, but I don’t get that granular with the IT service providers (ITSPs) I work with. I identify what’s causing their problems by asking questions. Specifically, I use a tactic called the Five Whys: repeatedly asking “why” until you get to the root cause of the pain.

The conversation almost always starts with pain points related to profitability. For example, a client might say they need a utilization report to show them what their technicians are doing because the company should be invoicing more billable hours or doing a better job of capturing the work. Here’s how the conversation might go:

Me: Why don’t you know what the technicians are doing?

Client: Because they don’t record their time.

Me: Why don’t they record their time?

Client: Because they’re salaried employees, not hourly, or they are too busy.

Me: If they record their time, you’ll know what they are doing every hour and which client should be allocated to and billed for. Set up a standard for hours-billed per week per technician and a process to record how they spent their time each day. Time should be entered by end of day and time sheets submitted weekly.

In this case, two “whys” got us to the root cause, and it’s certain that billable hours will go up once tech time is documented. At first, the client thought the solution to his problem could be found in a utilization report, but really the fix-it point was a few steps prior. Autotask can’t make an ITSP’s utilization rate improve by itself. The company needs to set up rules and processes to provide the information to the system before the system can provide meaningful measures, metrics and other business insights.

Sometimes the Five Whys uncover an unexpectedly easy root cause, such as education, i.e., such as showing techs how to connect a ticket to a contract, which increased accuracy in billing (more revenue) and reduced time in the billing process (higher efficiency).

As a technology specialist in the hospitality industry, I learned how to improve process efficiency with Six Sigma. As a former MSP owner, I learned how to run a more efficient business using Autotask. Now I combine the two to work with ITSPs to make them more efficient and profitable. 
Sandra Albert
President of Adelsohn Consulting
Sandra Albert is President of Adelsohn Consulting and an Autotask Certified Consulting Partner. She has more than 25 years of corporate and hospitality experience and a successful nine years as owner of a profitable MSP business. She is also a Six Sigma Black Belt and a member of the National Association of Professional Executive Women.
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