Have you ever been in a strategy or planning meeting where a colleague proclaims: here’s what we are going to do? It’s a take-charge and lead-by-proclamation moment meant to inspire action. The challenge is that ‘what we are going to do’ is not implicitly supported by a sound ‘why’ to justify action.

Suppose the meeting is about strategic sourcing, and the proclamation is: we are moving all network services from vendor A to vendor B by the end of the year. This statement has a clear objective, but the ‘why’ is not evident. This is the point of the meeting when digging into the ‘why’ driving the ‘what’ will improve reliability of the proposed action.

Telecom, mobility, and IT professionals need to understand the ‘why’ to deliver optimal value to the organizations they serve. All too often, a ‘what’ action is dictated by the business and the ‘why’ is unclear. Professionals that act without understanding the ‘why’ are more vulnerable than those that have a deep understanding of drivers for the actions; lack of understanding signals lack of partnership.

Japanese inventor and industrialist, Sakichi Toyoda, developed the ‘Five Whys’ technique to uncover the root cause of common problems. The technique, used by several continuous improvement methodologies, iteratively asks ‘why’ five times against a problem statement to uncover the root cause of the problem. Interestingly, the same technique applied to confirm a proposed action will uncover justification to move ahead, adapt, or abandon the action.

Asking ‘why’ forces thoughts to be discussed and challenged constructively thus improving the value of ‘what’ when action is taken.

Timothy C. Colwell

Timothy is Executive Vice President at AOTMP®

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