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Webinar Recording: Challenge the Process by Asking “Why?”

Webinar Presentation: Challenge the Process by Asking “Why?”

Date & Time

  • Date: Friday, February 19, 2016
  • Time: 11 am – 12 pm PST


  • Learn why we stop asking “why?”
  • Understand where Creative Genius comes from
  • Discover what a Profound Question is
  • Share how we can promote curiosity in the workplace


Tracy O’Rourke, Managing Partner & Executive Advisor

Tracy is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at For almost 20 years, she’s helped leading organizations like Washington State, Cisco and GE build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.

Q&As From the Webinar

Webinar Transcript

Elisabeth: Hello and welcome Go Lean Six Sigma’s webinar. Lean and Six Sigma are the go-to improvement methods used by leading companies all over the world. And since you guys and rest of our rapidly growing learner community have asked, we created a Lean Six Sigma webinar series.

During this monthly webinar, our experts are going to introduce you to tools and concepts that interest you most just like our training and consulting to paint you a simple picture of each technique and then we’ll give you examples of how they can be successfully applied in different situations. Our goal is to make it easy for you to use the tools where you need them and when you need them.

Today’s webinar as you can see is titled How to Challenge the Process By Asking “Why?” We are very psyched that you’re able to join us. We’re excited to introduce you to Lean Six Sigma and how it can benefit you and your organization. We’ve got a pretty full house today. Let’s see. Right now, what do we got? We’ve got over a hundred joining us.

Our Expert: Tracy

And what I’d like to do is introduce myself and my colleague. My name is Elisabeth Swan. I’m VP of Content and Development. And today’s presenter is also one of our VPs of Content and Development, my colleague, the wonderfully talented and consummately knowledgeable, Tracy O’Rourke.

Tracy: Hi everybody!

Elisabeth: Hey, Tracy. Tracy is a Master Black Belt who began her career at GE for almost 20 years. She has helped leading organizations like Motorola, BP, Cisco, the State of Washington, and many others to successfully apply Lean and Six Sigma. Tracy is a dynamic teacher and I am really looking forward to this session.

Oh, and by the way, Tracy lives in San Diego. She has got – lives with her husband, two small boys, and she likes biking, skiing, hiking, and most importantly, racing in costume. Yes, Tracy, that is you.

How To Interact

OK. Just a few notes about how our webinar is going to go today. You are going to be in listen-only mode unlike us. There’s going to be question and answer session following the presentation. But please feel free to ask questions anytime by entering them into the question area.

Your time is valuable so I’m going to hand you over to Tracy. Tracy, take it away.

Tracy: Great. Thank you. So just a couple of things to think through is how you interact. So we welcome questions and there’s a way to look at the button that has obviously a picture of a hand and you can type a question into the chat window or the question window box and then you will also be answering some polls throughout the session.

Let’s Interact!

So your first assignment is to tell us where are you from? This is actually one of my favorite parts of the webinar because if you type in where you’re from in that chat window, we can see where everybody is calling in from. And I always think that is very interesting to hear where everybody is doing – where everybody lives. So go ahead and do that.

Elisabeth: OK. Tracy, I am seeing folks calling in from Michigan. We’ve got Toronto, Canada. We got Madison, Wisconsin. We’ve got folks calling in from Dallas, Texas. So we’re getting a good spread so far in the US. Let’s see where else we got folks. Florida. We got Columbia. South Carolina. London. We got someone from the UK. Welcome. Welcome.

We’ve got let’s see, Eugene, California. Border City, Albuquerque. Venezuela. Hello. Welcome from Venezuela.

Tracy: Woohoo!

Elisabeth: I know! That’s big. My hometown, we got West Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Honolulu. Absolutely. Welcome. Welcome. Someone is from the UK. They’re calling from the UK but they’re from France, Tracy. Just so you know.

Tracy: Very nice. Thank you.

Elisabeth: OK. Glad it’s a good spread. Germany. Go ahead, Tracy.

Tracy: Good. Thank you. Thanks for sharing all of that. I have to say it is as Elisabeth mentioned, I do live in San Diego and people really don’t like me this time of year because it’s like 75 degrees here all the time. So people are like, “Whatever.”

So anyway, I’m happy to be here. I hope it’s not too cold for you out there. I see a lot of people from the rest of the United States where it might be a little cold. How cold is it in Cape Cod right now, Elisabeth?

Elisabeth: Today, it’s 40 degrees. Not as bad as it could be.

Tracy: Not as bad. Good. Well, that’s good to hear. So thank you for sharing.

Who Is

I’ll just tell you a little bit about Go Lean Six Sigma. Hopefully, many of you have actually already been experiencing our products and maybe our Yellow Belt Training, our Green Belt Training. But we really hope to make it easy for everyone everywhere to build their problem-solving muscles. We really focus on providing practical, easy to understand training that’s enjoyable. Training should be fun, right?

As a matter of fact, there is research that shows when people are laughing and having, they actually retain more. So that’s our mission, is to really take the complex concepts and simplify them. And we don’t want to confuse people. We believe that effective training is practical and accessible. So our mission is really to transform how people learn with And we really hope you enjoy it.

In this picture, you can see we’ve got all these people from the Bahama Bistro. And in our training, that’s where we bring everybody to learn about Lean Six Sigma. Doesn’t that sound enticing? You get to learn about Go Lean Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma concepts in the Bahamas. What company will you take there?

So, we are really hoping you enjoy it and love to hear any feedback that you have about the material. So far, we’ve been getting a lot of good reviews, excellent reviews actually.

We’ve Helped People From…

And as a matter of fact, there are a lot of people that are using the materials and training. And here’s just a few of the companies that have been liking our products and really signing more people up as we move forward.

So, the thing is, I think what’s interesting about this slide is you’ll notice there are lots of diverse organizations on here because guess what? Go Lean Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma is really about problem-solving and organizations always have problems to solve. They never run out of problems to solve. And so, that’s what’s great about this material and this training.

Today’s Agenda

So let’s talk a little bit about what we’re going to be doing today. So today’s agenda is about why we stop asking why, because some people might not think that we’ve actually been trained to stop asking why so we’re going to talk a little bit about that.

We’re also going to talk a little bit about creative genius and where it comes from because we find that there are some organizations that feel like culturally, they’re not – they don’t have as much innovation anymore and where does that really come from?

We’re also going to talk a little bit about what is a profound question and why those were important to ask.

We’re also going to talk briefly about a very simple tool called the 5 Whys. Many of you have probably heard of the 5 Whys tool already. But we’re going to just briefly talk about that because it is a way to help build curiosity. And there’s something – we’re going share a few other ideas about how you can promote curiosity in the workplace.

And that last one is really interesting because it really starts to talk a little bit about the culture of organizations and how sometimes the culture can be a barrier in itself. You can’t just have tools but you also have to really be mindful of the culture and if the culture is allowing people to be curious. So we’re going to talk a little bit about that at the end of this webinar today too.

So let’s move forward. So why do organizations implement process improvement? Ultimately, there are a lot of reasons why. We want to save money. We want to improve customer experiences. We want to grow our people. And it’s not really just about solving the problem at hand. This is actually a quote from John Shook. It’s really about making processes and problem-solving transparent and teachable so that you can build an organization of problem-solvers.

So there are a lot of things that we can do to try to make processes more transparent and the teaching of problem-solving. It’s really an important piece. But what’s interesting is even though organizations want to develop and grow employee’s ability to solve problems, before you can have problem-solvers, you got to have problem-seekers, people that want to find problems to solve because otherwise how many of you have run into this, people that say, “Oh, we don’t have any problems. We don’t have any problems to solve. I don’t really know where to apply this stuff.”

And so, why is that happening? Is it really true that we don’t have problems to solve or is it our ability to see problems or seek problems? Or maybe, it’s because culturally, we’re not really allowed to find problems. Maybe our managers or leaders don’t want to hear about the problems or maybe we’re afraid to talk about the problems that we have.

So, we really need to focus on before problem-solving and building problem-solvers, we have to really make sure that we actually have problem-seekers. And that’s a really important first step. So, how do you do that?

Why Do We Stop Asking “Why?”

Well, one of the things that we can do is we really have to start to help build the inquisitive mind in our organizations. And part of that is starting to ask why. So how do we get people to really start to ask why?

But I think what’s really interesting is when you think about it, it’s hard to ask why. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of research and evidence that shows that we have stopped asking why. And we sort of have been trained for a long period of time not to ask why. So if you think about it when we’re kids, children, they’re trying to figure out the world between the ages of 2 and 5. And they can ask over 40,000 questions, and some of those can be really funny or odd or profound.

As a matter of fact, my 8-year-old just asked me this week, how do you buy a house? I don’t he’s ready for that. I think he wants to live at home a little longer. It’s just interesting that he was saying, “How do you buy a house?” Because he says he wants to go buy a house now. I’m not really sure if that means he wants to move out or if he’s unhappy. But I think he’s a pretty happy kid.

But it’s really interesting all of those kinds of questions. And if you think about parents and if maybe you are a parent, if you have a child over the age of 5, that’s a lot of questions to be answering. And after about 20,000 of those questions, sometimes the answer is because, because I said so.

And so, I guess the question I want to know is do children sense their parents’ building frustration and is that way they stopped asking them why questions or is it because they got all their answers? I sometimes wonder.

So as small children, they ask a lot of questions. And then we think why do they stop asking them? Is it because we get annoyed or is it because they just feel like they know the answers? So think about school now. Think about them more in school, grade school. What happens when you ask too many questions at school?

I don’t know, Elisabeth, did you ask a lot of questions in school?

Elisabeth: You know I did, Tracy. You know I did.

Tracy: You strike me as somebody being very curious about the world. But if you think about school, even today, there are a lot of kids and sometimes not enough time to answer all those questions. And so often, they might – it might be a distraction for teachers to have very inquisitive kids in their class, which is unfortunate.

And I do actually have to say that I did – when I first got started in process improvement, I did go to a Black Belt class and the teacher actually told me I asked too many questions. I’m like, “What do you mean? Isn’t that good? Isn’t that good that I ask questions? That says I’m engaged.” But apparently, he didn’t like it. So OK, so I guess I’ll stop asking so many questions.

And so – I was being respectful too. It wasn’t that I wasn’t trying to test his curiosity and those kinds of things.

So anyway – and so we learned in school also that we ask too many questions. But also think about it at work. What happens if we ask too many questions at work? Does our manager get annoyed? Do our bosses get impatient if we ask too many questions?

So a lot of times, we might think that our inquisitive mind gets squashed and we stop really asking why. So that could be unfortunate.

So we really need to think about how we want to engage the inquiry and the inquisitive mind again. And how do we do that? How do we get – how do we make employees or not make them per se but encourage inquisitive or inquiry within our jobs and within our processes?

Who Is This?

So, I want to share a little bit of a story about a person. And first, there’s a picture of this person. Does anybody know who this is? Yes?

Elisabeth: While you launch your poll, I’m going to give you some of my thoughts on who this might be because he looks a little bit like an uncle of mine in Buffalo.

Quick Poll

Tracy: Alright. So go ahead and answer the poll. And Elisabeth has a little bit of a story.

Elisabeth: He looks a little bit like my uncle in Buffalo but he also – he could be a presidential candidate. There are so many of them, it could be one of them. He could be a late night talk show host. There are also a lot of those. So I’m thinking that might also be who this is.

He looks familiar to me. I just can’t place him. But let’s see what’s your – let’s see what our fabulous panel of participants thinks.

Tracy: That sounds good. So we’ve got about 65% of the people have voted. So go ahead and vote. I’m going to wait a little longer.

OK. Interesting, very interesting. OK. So I’m going to go ahead and close it. And then we’re going to share it. OK. Do you see this, Elisabeth?

Elisabeth: I do.

Tracy: OK.

Elisabeth: We’ve got not surprisingly, we got 63% of people saying just what I did, I’m not really sure. The next big vote getter was, let’s see, a famous actor. Yeah, he did look like a little familiar there or a Black Belt that delivers results. That’s nice of them. It could be an inventor. And then there’s a small group, 4%, thinking he’s an international philanthropist. Who is it, Tracy? Who is it?

Tracy: OK. So all right. And do you see the slide again?

Elisabeth: Oh yeah. You’re back.

Who Is This?

Tracy: Great. So, in actuality, he is an inventor. So actually, 10% of the people were correct. He is an inventor. And his name is Van Phillips. So he may not ring a bell but if you watch the Olympics, the last Olympics, these might look familiar. So Van Phillips actually invented the C-shape flex foot limb invention. This is the invention that are prosthetics, that runners and athletes use in the Paralympics.

So Van revolutionized the design of prosthetics and enhance the lives of amputees especially those with performance aspirations. What was not possible for amputees was possible again. And so, these were really designed for performance. And I think what’s even more riveting than this invention is the story behind this man and how he challenged the process of designing prosthetics.

Before he was an inventor, he was an athlete and a runner. And his story begins when he was only 21 years old. And unfortunately, in a skateboard accident which resulted in an amputation of one of his legs. So he was an amputee. And eventually what happened was he finally came to the realization that he had to accept his new situation but what he wasn’t willing to accept was that it was a plastic pink foot attached to an aluminum tube was the best possible prosthetic available for amputees. It seemed it was designed more to replicate the image of a foot but not designed for human activity.

So after his accident, his vision for the future and for himself was to be able to do something he really loved, and that was to run again. And 30 years later, he was able to run again. And he wasn’t an engineer. He wasn’t an inventor at the time of this accident. But he had a problem that he wanted to solve and he didn’t have the answers.

Creative Genius That Started With “Why?”

So he just had questions. And one of the questions he had was if we could put a man on the moon, why can’t we make a better foot? And so, he really did seek a lot of answers and he really struggled with why things were – there wasn’t a better option. He made him an engineer and he went to school to become an engineer and then he ended up designing like a hundred prototypes over 10 years. And how do you think he tested each one of these, Elisabeth?

Elisabeth: I don’t know, Tracy. But I think you’re going to tell me.

Tracy: Well, he attached it to his leg and he would run. And inevitably, sometimes it didn’t work and he would fall down and then he’d wonder, “What am I doing wrong this time?” So there were lots of questions that he had then he ended up transforming the world with all these questions.

So, I’m just going to share a couple of other stories around profound questions and some of the creative genius that started with questions, profound questions. So here’s an interesting one.

OK. So I might be dating myself. I do remember that when we used to use these, the Polaroid instant cameras. It’s funny that we call them instant based on what we have today, right? So this is actually the inventor, Edwin Land. He had a daughter, a 3-year-old, and they were on vacation in New Mexico. And finally, his impatient daughter piped up with a question, “Why do we have to wait to see the picture?” Because he was taking a picture of her, and of course back then, you had to like submit the film. We all remember this. That was a long time ago. But it was kind of amazing how far we’ve come along in technology.

And so, you have to wait and process the film. He really honored this question. And within an hour, he basically conceived the basic mechanics of an instant camera. And so, that was really a pivotal question. He stuck with the question he really thought through how he could make it more of an instant camera. So at the time, that was pretty genius.

And then of course you guys know this guy, Steve Jobs. And so, it’s funny to think about what phones look like and the functionality that they had even what, 7 years ago. And it was really a profound question. Why do I have to listen to all the voicemails to find the one that I really need? Remember we had to do that? When we would actually have to listen to every single voicemail in a row to find the one that we were really wanting to listen to, to get the phone number,

And so, he and his organization designed an amazing phone and said, “We were just so used to dealing with a piece of equipment that really wasn’t doing well for us.” And so that is where the complete redesign came in.

Creative Genius

So the question is, where do all these – what do these stories suggest? Really the idea behind this is does creative genius really come from knowing all the answers or is it in asking profound questions? And how do we get better at asking profound questions? And ultimately, what is a profound question?

A Profound Question Is…

A profound question is really one that challenges assumptions, considers new possibilities, and has the potential to serve as a catalyst. And that’s a really important thing to think about. Many times, it’s those really good questions, those profound questions that prompt us into inquiry and innovation.

The Socratic Method

And so, if we get really good at asking questions, often, that can help start building inquiry into the process and innovation as well. As a matter of fact, this technique has been used for many, many centuries and it’s actually called the Socratic Method. It’s the oldest and most powerful way to faster critical thinking.

Quick Poll

I want to know how many of you have actually heard of this technique and were you focusing on asking good questions, not just giving answers? So, I have another poll for you. And the poll is coming up. How to use the Socratic Method before? Ready? Go ahead and answer.

Elisabeth: So Tracy, I know you and I both use this in class. And I feel like for us, it’s always the fastest way to turn a lecture into an interactive dialogue. And it’s also – it makes it more fun for them. But I think it makes it more fun for you and I, doesn’t it?

Tracy: It does. It absolutely does.

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Tracy: It’s kind of like – think about the teenager, right? Teenagers don’t really – the tell thing doesn’t really work with teenagers. So I’ve heard. My kids are actually – my oldest is going to be a teenager this year. But often, we don’t ask – they’re not really good at the tell thing. They need to discover things on their own. I mean we would love for them to learn from our mistakes but often, they want to learn their own mistakes. So that’s really just asking question.

Elisabeth: So Tracy, it starts off when they’re little and they’re asking you why and then you know by the time they’re teenagers, you got to start asking them.

Tracy: Yes, right. Exactly. So, we have – I’m going to go ahead and close the poll. And let’s see what people have said. Do you like that first one? Don’t all Black Belts use it? It’s part of the Socratic Method. So close, the poll and share.

Elisabeth: OK. So it looks like most people frequently use it or the biggest category. Not very often was the next biggest. And there are some people very – we got some honest folks on the line saying they’re often in tell mode, which might be a function of their job. They feel like they have to be in tell mode. And lastly, don’t all Black Belts use it? I just did, 9%.

The Socratic Method

Tracy: Exactly. So thank you for sharing that. It’s very helpful. I think as a process improvement person and this is something we’re always looking to build, asking questions versus telling. I think it could be sometimes Black Belts are the all-knowing being in process improvement. I think it could be really easy to get into tell mode. And there are certain times we absolutely are – don’t need to be in tell mode but how are we incorporating questions as well?

OK. Can you see that?

Elisabeth: Oh yeah.

Building Problem Solvers

Tracy: OK. So here are some questions that you can ask for building problem-solving muscles as opposed to telling. I always say be a mentor not a hero. So how do we ask questions and help them find the answer and build that skill? If you’re the hero, that means your people have to be saved. That’s not a good feeling often. So we don’t want to necessarily save our people because then they feel like they’re victims. So I think that’s an important thing to remember. And if we have – before asking questions, that will help build that problem-solving muscle as opposed to having the answers.

Often, managers say, “They’re always coming to me and I have to always solve the problems.” Well, sometimes it’s the ultimately what we’re doing. How are we – are we giving them the answers all the time? Are we actually helping build that problem-solving muscle?

So these are good questions. Now, some people say, “I can’t be doing this all the time. It’s a lot of work.” Well, it is. It is a lot of work. And there are absolutely time where you need to be directive as a Black Belt, as a manager, as a leader. But are we also spending time asking really good questions so that people can find the answers on their own as well?

The Five Whys Technique

So, one thing I want to talk about is this is really about things we can do to help promote problem-seeking and problem-solving. But we also have something called the 5 Whys technique. And as you guys know, you guys are probably pretty experienced from what I can tell, is the 5 Whys technique, if you got a child over the age of 5, you know what the 5 Whys are. It’s asking why 5 times in a row to work back that causal chain.

No special technique is required. It’s one of the simplest tools in the toolkit. And it helps you really work back the causal chain.

Five Whys at the Bahama Bistro

And in our material, our training, we go to the Bahama Bistro. And this is the example that we actually use and share in the material to kind of have people see how this might work. So surprisingly, Elisabeth, the woman on the left in this video, her nametag says, Elisabeth. I wonder where they got that name.

Elisabeth: Well, I’ll play the role of Elisabeth for you.

Tracy: Sure. That would be wonderful. I’ll play the chef.

Elisabeth: OK, Tracy. Why does the food order take so long to deliver to our customers?

Tracy: Well, because some of the prep takes too long.

Elisabeth: OK. And why does the prep take too long?

Tracy: Well, because sometimes chefs have to re-stock supplies and wash dishes in the middle of a rush.

Elisabeth: You know I’m going to ask why. So why does the chef have to re-stock and wash the dishes, Tracy?

Tracy: Well, because we run out of both.

Elisabeth: Why do we run out of ingredients and dishes?

Tracy: Well, we just don’t have enough ingredients prepared and we don’t have enough dishes.

Elisabeth: Why do we not have enough prepped ingredients or enough dishes?

Tracy: Well, most of time it’s because we got a lot of dishes to prep the salads and we don’t have anyone preparing back-up ingredients in case we run out.

So what have we learned?

Elisabeth: Working in the causal chain of 5 Whys technique helps team work back root cause.

Tracy: So, it’s just a fun example for people to get an idea. But I think this really does apply.

Help! The Memorial is Crumbling!

And this is probably one of the most famous 5 Whys that we’ve seen, is about the Jefferson Memorial. So there’s actually a YouTube video on this if you actually want to see it. You just type it up, and it kind of walks you through this. And this is basically a real application of the 5 Whys.

So why is the Jefferson Memorial crumbling? Well, they’re saying, “Well, it’s because of frequent washings.”

So let’s just think for a minute if we did not actually want to go through the 5 Whys, most people would just to solution. So what might be some solutions that we would put in place here? Because the frequent washings, Elisabeth. What would you say?

Elisabeth: I’d say if you – maybe you don’t wash it just like live with the dirty monument or maybe you experiment with some different types of detergent, see which one deteriorates the marble the least. You could play with some trial and error there.

Tracy: Yes. I think so. You could – so there could be some options or solutions people might do. But if we ask why, oh, it’s because of the large quantities of bird droppings. That’s what I’ve heard so frequently. So what might we do here as a solution?

Elisabeth: We can totally solve that. We can humanely get rid of the birds. We could find a couple of different methods. I’m sure there are some folks that could help us with that. Just get rid of the birds.

Tracy: Yeah. I’ve had some people say, “Well, we might go hunting. There might be some hunting, going out with the birds.” And in San Diego, we see a lot of those like silver prong things on statues and suddenly, the statues have like metal hair. So this might be expensive and maybe some solutions for that.

But maybe we should ask why, right? Why are there so many birds? Because there is an abundant food supply. OK. So what do we do here?

Elisabeth: Well, apparently, they are there to chop on the little spiders. So I think maybe some spider poison. You could get in there with …

Tracy: Spider poison?

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Tracy: Some people might think it’s the food supply of the visitors, right? Like some people might, “OK, no more popcorn sales at the Jefferson Memorial.” People can’t eat there anymore. What we might find is as you said, Elisabeth, it’s the spiders. Why is it about the food supply? Because there are a lot of spiders. Oh, so now what? You might be saying, “Well, they may need to have some bug spray.”

Elisabeth: Yeah. So you got people in there to clean up the food supply more often then you got the bug spray to nix the spiders.

Tracy: Yes. So, there could be some money spent there but if we ask why again, well, there are a lot of spiders because there are a lot of midges. So midges are those really tiny, almost microscopic bugs that come out. And so, there are a lot of midges. So now what do we do? Do we buy more bug spray?

Elisabeth: No, I got it. We could have a gigantic strip of fly paper.

Tracy: So why are there so many midges? Well, they are attracted to light at night. Interesting. So what they were finding was that when they would turn the lights on at dusk, all these midges would come out and then that would generate the spiders and then the spiders would generate the food supply for the birds who have a lot of bird droppings. So they were all connected.

So really what the answer was is they ended up turning on the lights about an hour later, and that broke the food chain. They didn’t have to worry about spiders or birds or anything or frequent washings. So that’s it. The solution ended up being turn on the lights an hour longer.

But think about all that money we just spent on bug spray, spider spray, bird whatever you want – bird prong things on statues. I mean this is where we spend so much money because we don’t know the root cause or we haven’t worked the causal chain back far enough and we’re just slapping solutions onto it. So that’s why once you finally work the causal chain, it could really be inexpensive and an easy solution.

So that’s also what we want to do. So that is a great tool to help think through for people that are looking at processes, why things are the way they are.

Why Questions to Start

And these might be some questions to start with. How many of you have processes with too many signatures or too much information or the forms are too long or that there are too many steps in the process or why do so many people need to touch this thing?

I had an organization where there were 16 people touching one piece of paper. Is that really necessary? So these are all things that we might start the causal chain with asking these kinds of questions.

So those are some good tools and tips for people that are thinking about process improvement. But I think one of the things I want to get back to is this cultural piece which is how do we make sure it’s OK to ask why? How do we make sure that we’re supporting an environment that allows those questions to be answered?

Support a Blame-Free Environment

And ultimately, it’s supporting a blame-free environment. And so, people wonder sometimes why process improvement doesn’t flourish. And a lot of times it’s because we’re not addressing the environment. If it’s a high blame organization or there’s a lot of blame or people are pointing fingers all the time, people are not going to want raise their hand and say, “Yeah, we got problems over here.” And then everybody look at their processes. It’s not safe. It’s not really an environment that’s going to allow people to do that.

So first, we have to also make sure that we’re looking at our environment. We have to recognize and stop allowing a hunt for the guilty. We have to stop allowing blame to happen. We have to make people focus on the process, not the people doing the process because that’s really truly process improvement.

And a lot of times, people feel blamed for the processes when it may not necessarily be their fault. I’m a big proponent and fan of saying that the people that work in a broken process are the biggest victims of a process. So we have to really start to look at our environment first. Is it really a blame-free environment? Are people feeling like they can actually say, “Yeah, this is – we got problems and that’s OK.”

We also have to recognize and promote behaviors we want, so sometimes risk taking is not encouraged. We don’t create an environment to openly discuss process issues and we are not making process problems visible because we don’t want people coming over looking at our stuff.

And so, these are all to me and I’m sure Elisabeth would agree, these are things that need to be addressed before we can actually give people the 5 Whys because otherwise, they’re going to be trained not to ask questions. Just like when we were children.

Quick Poll

So we have one more poll for you, and that is, how blame-free is your organization? And I’m going to ahead and launch it and we’ll take some votes.

Elisabeth: OK. So this one is really interesting to me, Tracy, because I feel like this is kind of foundational that the whole key in process improvement to get somewhere better is to make mistakes. In fact, a lot of companies adopt the phrase, “Fail faster.” The faster we figure out what doesn’t work, the faster we can learn from our mistakes and improve.

Edison tried 6,000 different substances before he settled on tungsten for the light bulb. And so, we have to approach it that way.

So if there’s blame, then we don’t learn. If people hide mistakes and hide what’s wrong then we don’t learn from that and we can’t improve. So I feel like it’s really critical.

Tracy: Yes. And as a consultant, this is one of the first things I’m culturally looking for when I help organizations is I want to – I’m sort of trying to identify how much blame exist in the organization because sometimes that means we have to do some cultural work before we can do any training at all.

So we’ve got a good amount of votes. So I’m going to go ahead and close the poll so we can share some of these results.

Elisabeth: OK. So you got the majority feeling like their organizations have some work to do to make it blame-free, 27% pockets of blame and blame-free so there’s some hope there, 16% have said, very small amount say pretty good, not a lot of blame, and then we put the lame in blame 8%. I love that. It’s a good rate. No, it’s not safe. It’s not safe to say it’s not safe, 8%. Wow! Interesting.

Tracy: Yes, it is interesting. And I think it’s very telling. And actually there was a quote that I had heard from someone who said that last one, “No, it’s not safe. It’s not even safe to say it’s not safe.” I mean that was a direct quote. And so, how do you actually thrive with process improvement when it’s in an environment like that?

So it’s really important to address these things. And so, we’re going to give you one or two things to think about to help encourage this a little bit more because most of you said you have some work to do. And so, maybe these things will help.

Promoting Curiosity in the Workplace

And so, one of the things that you may have heard about before is a very simple change management tool called Stop, Start and Continue. And so, this is a great question for leaders or managers or intact teams. So how do – what do we need to do to stop – what do we need to stop doing to help create a blame-free environment?

So when we start to become a little bit more self-aware of how our behaviors are supporting the high blame. So do we find – and this is where we have good discussions and dialogue, this order or this format helps you have really good dialogue within your organization. It helps people recognize, “Oh, we are doing that. We actually are doing that.”

Managers are running out of their offices trying to find the person to blame when there’s a problem. It happens all the time. We need to stop doing that. We need to catch ourselves doing that because it’s actually helping to uphold the blame in this organization.

So, there used to be very good discussions and then you would move into what do we need to start doing to help create a blame-free environment? So, I was working with an organization and the leadership team would bring people in basically when something went wrong.

And we had someone in the room one day. She was a process improvement person, my main contact. And she actually got briefed and said, “No one wants to come here. Everybody is afraid to come here.” And the leadership team kind of looked around and said, “What do you mean?” She goes, “Well, everybody always is in trouble. Whenever you call somebody, they’re always in trouble.” They went, “No, that’s not true.”

So then the question was asked, so when was the last time you brought somebody in to actually praise them on a job well done? They hadn’t done it. So maybe we need to start bringing people in to praise them and give them recognition for a job well done. So that’s where this idea of Stop, Start and Continue comes in.

And then the other thing is for some of you that say, “We still have some work to do,” it sounds to me like there are some areas that are blame-free. And so, what are those groups doing differently that other groups could also incorporate into how they’re behaving? So that’s what we need to recognize, the things we are already doing to help support a blame-free environment and how do we recognize that it’s working and how do we leverage that into other areas.

So I hope you use this tool. I find it works really well for having some conversations that people really don’t spend time doing and they’re really important, really important conversations. And why? Because culture is created by what is tolerated and what is promoted. So if you have a high blame organization, that means we’re tolerating it and we’re actually even promoting it at times. So we have to recognize how we need to change using the Stop, Start, and Continue tool, it’s a very simple tool to maybe change the culture. It’s a start.

So I’m going to leave you with a couple of profound questions. What is promoted in your organization and what is tolerated in your organization? This came from a book called Boundaries for Leaders by Dr. Henry Cloud. I would highly recommend it. But it really does talk about the role of leaders in building process improvement and it does talk about how leaders help set the stage for process improvement culture.

So I hope you can have some time to think about these questions and move forward with building a blame-free culture. So I hope you enjoyed this webinar today.

Today We Covered

These are some of the things that we covered: why we stop asking why because we’ve been trained, where created genius comes from in asking profound questions, and we gave you two tools, one of them was for people applying process improvement and that’s the 5 Whys method, and then if you want to promote curiosity in the workplace, think about how we’re tolerating blame and what we need to do to change it.

Getting Started

So, if you are looking to get more training, we actually do cover some lean culture in our Lean Training and Certification. We speak to that a little bit. And so, if you’re looking to learn more about that, I would highly recommend it. So …


Elisabeth: Great. Thank you, Tracy. We’re going to start a little Q&A answer session. Everybody out there, to ask a question, please enter it into the question area on GoToWebinar panel. And then we’ll take a moment to see if we’re getting some questions coming in.

Tracy: Good.

Elisabeth: I’m looking.

Tracy: And at this time, as you’re looking, I’ll just say that we actually have our podcast out. It’s called the Just-In-Time Café. And we have our first podcast out called Battle of the Fixes and it’s on our website, Elisabeth can tell you a little bit later about where that is. But go to and you can hear what you think is better, Lean or Six Sigma.

Elisabeth: OK. So Tracy, I’ve got a few questions for you. Let’s see. How do you start when everything feels broken? What’s the best thing to do first?

Tracy: Well, so I think this is going to sound a little oversimplified but culture, if you’re talking about culture, we need to do Plan, Do, Check, Act on our culture. And a lot of times, organizations don’t do that. So we need to think about if everything is broken, what is broken culturally and then you can apply some tools.

So always – we tend to work with leadership teams to think about what is the culture that we want because often people are not intentional about culture. And you have to be intentional about culture. So if you want a lean culture, what does that look like? And where are we today and what are the gaps? So we’ve spent lots of time with leadership teams discussing that and then developing a plan on how we’re going to close the gaps.

Elisabeth: Right.

Tracy: Because it’s there for every culture and it’s not cookie cutter. Every culture has different dysfunctions, let’s just say. And so, you need different strategies depending on what the root causes are.

Elisabeth: That’s nice, Tracy, very helpful. Here’s another one for you. Have you seen – what have you seen as a successful method of helping people make the adjustment from telling to asking?

Tracy: I think the most helpful thing you can do is a list of prepared planned questions, because profound questions are difficult to come up with on the fly. So having a list of preplanned questions until those questions become natural for you to ask someone, and that can take work. And sometimes you might say, “Oh well, I tried that. It didn’t work.” I would say, try to ask better questions. It’s not always up to the person. It’s often – sometimes the way we’re asking it doesn’t do – it doesn’t help them learn.

So it’s definitely an art and practicing on preplanned questions can help you kick start that.

Elisabeth: Nice. Very helpful. Thank you, Tracy. Another question for you. This person said they’re a newbie on process improvement. How do they make sure the 5 Whys is used correctly to lead to the root cause?

Tracy: So, I think what’s interesting is, I think one of the most important things about the 5 Whys is to make sure you’re asking it correctly or what I call appropriately. It should not feel like an interrogation. So I think one of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re trying the 5 Whys is to make sure that you don’t sound like you’re interrogating somebody because that will turn people off and it will make them feel like you’re not collaborating per se.

So I think I would focus on asking it appropriately versus using it correctly. Sometimes it doesn’t lead you down to the causal chain. And so again, you could say how – there could be better questions that you ask but I sometimes feel like the goal is not necessarily to purposely drive people a certain way. It’s to explore.

Elisabeth: Yeah. And here’s a really big question. But I think you might have some nice nuggets to share. We probably have some nuggets that will come on our next webinar. But the question is, how do you get people to accept change in a positive way?

Tracy: Well, the most important thing about accepting change is being a part of it. And what I have found is even though everybody says, “Yes, we include people. Yes, we include people.” We often are not including them to the level that we need to be. So change is easy to accept when you’ve been a part of that change.

I think when people feel like change is being done to them, they resist. So the idea is don’t do that. Make them a part of that change. Involve them as early as possible. And I don’t mean everybody like some people say, “Well, we have a call center. We’ve got a hundred people on the phone. We can’t involve a hundred people.” No, that’s true.

However, you can bring in a certain group of representatives and remind them that they are representing their entire group. And then vet and pilot some of those changes so that people feel like they understand the changes and that they’ve been able to participate in fine tuning those changes.

I think what ends up happening is some people think it’s just faster to come up with the change themselves and implement it and then they wonder why nobody wants to do it. So it takes longer to do it that way. But I think people have a tendency to want a change, make change happen that way.

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Tracy: It’s not fast.

Elisabeth: Yeah. It takes longer but it’s permanent or more permanent. Great one. Tracy, here’s another for you. Can these techniques work in any type of industry, for example, healthcare versus auto?

Tracy: Absolutely. A hundred percent absolutely. And as a matter of fact, healthcare and auto, those two particular industries had a lot of process improvement implemented historically. I mean lean came from Toyota. And there are lots of their competitors that have also started to incorporate a lot of these problem-solving. And there’s huge booms in healthcare right now. And so yes, absolutely.

I haven’t found an industry yet that Lean and Six Sigma and problem-solving cannot apply.

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Tracy: Actually, I take it back. Children don’t really like process improvement. But you know what? Sometimes it works. So 3 year olds are kind of like, “No, I’m not doing that.”

Elisabeth: OK. So in the industry of childcare, you would say or just children themselves.

Tracy: Raising children, yeah.

Elisabeth: Child-raising, OK.

Tracy: It has been taxing.

Elisabeth: So we’ll leave child-raising out of it. But what about – another big question, you could go a lot of ways with this but what is the best way to promote this idea of challenging the status quo and asking why? Challenging the process.

Tracy: The best way to promote, well, I always like to talk about WIIFM because you know what WIIFM, what’s in it for me? If you spell it out, it’s WIIFM like WIIFM Radio. Everyone loves to tune in to WIIFM Radio, what’s in it for me.

And so what’s in it for people? They’re building their problem-solving muscle. And that’s what the skin for them in the game is building the problem-solving muscle means you’re asking good questions. And so, I believe that that helps people get motivated to ask questions and ask why because that is the critical component of problem-solving. You’ve got to be a problem-seeker before you can be a problem-solver.

Elisabeth: Nice. I like that radio channel or I don’t like that radio channel. I just – it’s great to know about that radio channel.

Let’s see. There was another person asking, what was the book by Dr. Henry Cloud?

Tracy: It’s called Boundaries for Leaders.

Elisabeth: Great.

Tracy: Boundaries for Leaders by Dr. Henry Cloud. It’s very good.

Elisabeth: OK.

Tracy: And it talks about how leaders – I’ll just say really quickly that it talks about how leaders are ridiculously in charge and they don’t even know it, very simple things like if they stay in work, if they send emails on weekend, everybody is working on the weekends. If they stay until 6:00 o’clock, everybody stay until 6:00 o’clock. Your behaviors say a lot, more than you know. So it reminds people that how do we be intentional about the culture we’re building because we don’t necessarily always know that what we’re doing as a leader is building that culture.

Elisabeth: That’s great. It’s a good tip. And here’s another question for you. In certain meetings, when I ask why, I sometimes get a dismissive reaction as if I ask why because I simply do not know or I’m ignorant of the process. How do I phrase it in a way that we can get to the root cause analysis?

Tracy: I would just announce that you’re doing it. As an example, I might just say briefly before asking why, I would say, “In the spirit of process improvement, do we know why we do this?” And so, you’re sort of giving people your perspective of why you’re asking the question and that shows respect too, and I think it could be very helpful to say something like that before you just launch into why. Because remember, if it’s a high blame organization, sometimes people will default in behavior and just feel like they need to be defensive.

Elisabeth: That’s nice. That’s helpful. Thanks, Tracy. Here’s another one. How do you promote involvement when people are consistently asked for their opinion and feedback and never have anything to say because they’re fearful of increased workload to fix the problems that they might help identify?

Tracy: Yup. So I think that’s interesting. And to me culturally, there’s something bigger going on there that needs to be uncovered. And most people, if they really believe that the process improvement is going to save them time, they’re going to invest the time. But if they feel like now they have been given responsibility and they don’t see that they’re going to be successful or they feel like they’re being set up to fail or they don’t see the WIIFM, they’re going to resist.

So I think we have to look at what process improvements have occurred and did those people that were investing in it because they thought it was going to do something good for them, did it actually happen? And so, we have to really think about the process of process improvement now.

Elisabeth: Good.

Tracy: And I’m not saying it’s wrong. But I’m saying, why is that behavior happening? And we have to find the root cause for that.

Elisabeth: Good, Tracy, really helpful. Here’s another one. What do you think about the thought that the question why has a tendency to put people on the defensive?

Tracy: It does. It absolutely does. And so, I think that’s why it’s important as the gentleman or the person that asked earlier, how do you do it in a meeting where they don’t dismiss us? We have to announce what we’re doing. So, as a matter of fact, we do a lot of process walks and often, almost every person we talk to, we say, “We are not here to find blame. We are here to understand the process. We’re students of the process and we’re here to learn from you. Can you tell us about the process?”

And then they’ll launch into asking any question that we asked them about the process because, well, part of it I think is because I’m a third party and they know that I’m going to be the referee. But if that’s what it takes, but often, feeling like – I’ve had people completely open up after we have sort of set the ground rule of this is why we’re asking the questions. This is the purpose of why we’re asking these questions. And you’re safe.

And those are the three things that I don’t think get repeated enough before we launch into asking. Because now, it is an interrogation. And let’s remember, there have been lots of people that have probably asked them why in the past where they had to defend.

Elisabeth: Yeah, good point.

Tracy: So we’ve got the history working against us too.

Elisabeth: Good point. Nice, Tracy. Thank you. Here’s another one. I see a big problem with good workers who have their own secret sauce and they don’t want to share.

Tracy: Well, that’s interesting. And I think in a union environment, we’ve got all kinds of other things we have to deal with and there are even some laws around what’s acceptable process improvement when dealing with the union. But again, a change is always – often one of the big factors with change is what have I got to lose? So people don’t want to change because they fear what they’re going to lose. And often people say knowledge is power.

And so again, how do we identify is it really power in our organization or why is it powering our organization and how do we promote sharing and collaboration? Because if culturally everybody thinks knowledge is power and they protect what they know, it’s going to be difficult for people to share their knowledge. So again, same issue is culturally, we are allowing it.

Elisabeth: Yeah, I think you’re right about that. Another one, how do you prevent the why from going global, not really getting to root cause but to every other thing?

Tracy: That’s a great question. And I think about – when you were asking me that question, Elisabeth, I started seeing visually in front of me the fishbone diagram populating with all these possible root causes, right? So why this? Why that? Well, because this and because that and because of global warming and world hunger and boiling the ocean.

I’d let people go there when we’re brainstorming because remember, when you’re brainstorming root causes, good ground rules for brainstorming is you let people say what they want to say. So I will populate sometimes a whole fishbone diagram that it’s now a whale of root causes. And now when we get to filtering, that’s when we start to filter all those root causes.

So we might say, OK, out of all of these root causes, which ones do we actually have control over? That might be a filter that we actually apply because we don’t want to work on something we can’t control.

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Tracy: So I tend to let people go there in brainstorming. And then when it’s time to filtering, I filter with questions, Socratic Method, what can we control on this fishbone? Or it might be something like what – sometimes I ask people, what do you really think it is as a gut? If we’re trying to do cycle time, what is your gut telling you that it is? So sometimes we have a majority of people raise their hand, “Yes, we think this is it. We might try to confirm if that’s true or not.”

Elisabeth: That’s great, Tracy. And thank you so much. We’re going to answer all of your questions. We will do that offline and we will post them on our site for those of you that did not get your questions answered. Thank you so much for submitting those questions. Those were great and really helpful.

Upcoming Webinars

Now Tracy, let’s take a look at upcoming webinars. We’ve got an email announcement going out to learn about upcoming webinars. The next one is going to be on tools for engagement, kind of a follow on to this. Tracy talked about ownership, how do you build buy-in and ownership and how to use Lean Six Sigma tools themselves to do that. So we’ll study that.

Let’s see. I want to say thank you everyone for joining. Hope you enjoyed your time with us. We absolutely enjoyed all of you. Please share your feedback with us. Complete the survey presented when the webinar ends. We’d love your feedback. We respond to it every day. And we use it to design additional webinars on the Lean Six Sigma topics that you guys want to hear about. So look for invitations.

Also, look for, as Tracy said, our new podcast, the Just-In-Time Café. And this week, it’s going to be about the Battle of the Fixes, Lean versus Six Sigma. Go to our website on our homepage. It’s at

That concludes today’s broadcast. Thanks everybody. Tracy and I and the whole team here at Go Lean Six Sigma are happy you joined us. Goodbye everybody.

Tracy: Bye-bye.

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Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at For almost 20 years, she's helped leading organizations like Washington State, Cisco and GE build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.