"Five Whys" applied to excuses for not doing quality improvement

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Starting quality improvement initiatives in any organization is a difficult task. In addition to the many internal and external obstacles get in the way, excuses are given by the employees as to why it will not work. This is understandable in a world of competing projects, time and money pressures within the current economic environment. Over the years we have heard many excuses for waiting, postponing, starting, stopping or simply delaying a process that, once applied, can be used to effectively improve major processes and remove time wasters.

Like all issues to be solved, there is a "root cause" that has to be discovered. In the case of excuses, the root cause seems to be that excuses themselves are reason enough, on their face value, to not engage in problem solving activities. Some of us are masters of excuse making! We have learned that when one excuse is given and overcome, many folks simply shift to another excuse, and so on! Remember that "excuses" do not fix the problem.

Why are you still making excuses?

One of the tools that we use frequently to determine a true root cause is to ask the "5 whys" [1]. When we ask the "5 whys" of quality improvement, we can use this tool in examining the cause of excuses.

So let us ask the 5 whys to determine the root cause of excuse making:

#1: Why are excuses made?

Answer: Well, they are effective at putting off activities that we do not want to do or even fear that we will have to do.

#2: Why are excuses effective?

Answer: Excuses have worked for as long as I can remember at getting me off of the responsibility of making progress or changing my behavior.

#3: Why have these excuses worked?

Answer: Because when we make excuses, it prevents me from engaging in changing the way I think about an issue.

#4: Why do I want to stop from engaging in changing my way of thinking?

Answer: Because excuses have always worked. (In fact, excuses are a "rule" in my head that tells me that if asked to do something I do not want to do, that I will not have to do what is asked of me when I come up with a good excuse.)

#5: Why do I think excuses will always work for me?

Answer: Excuses serve me well for a long time and nobody ever challenges me. I just hope that in the long run I am retired before there is a day of reckoning…. when excuses will no longer work for getting me out of doing quality improvement.

The five whys approach has uncovered a possible root cause that "no one challenges excuses." As managers we must challenge excuses to not doing quality improvement from our employees and hold them accountable or no change or improvement will take place.

Our top ten favorite excuses for not doing Quality Improvement:

  1. I am too busy
  2. My boss is not involved
  3. My boss will stop it
  4. We are too short handed around here
  5. There is no money to do this
  6. I am going to retire in a year anyway
  7. The system will never change
  8. If I save time in my job, they might not need me around here anymore
  9. We tried this years ago and it faded out just about as soon as it started
  10. I do not like change since things seem to be going along just fine here

What are the best - or worst - excuses you've heard for not doing Quality Improvement? Let us know by leaving a comment on this article or join the discussion in the PEX Network forum!


[1] The Quality Improvement Tools Encyclopedia and Glossary, John W. Moran and Grace Duffy, Public Health foundation, 2012, pp.35-36