Category Archives: Business

Before You Fix It, Ask 5 Whys

The 5 Whys


How many times have you launched on a hell-bent mission to fix a problem before really getting to the root cause of why the problem started in the first place?

So often it is easy to come in to a problem and with our best intentions set out on solving the problem in front of us, without really getting to the bottom of how the problem started, or what the real problem is.

For example:

I am furious that my favorite dress is suddenly tight.  If you were to come in to the room as I vented my fury at the dress, you’d understandably be led to believe the problem was firmly with the dress.  Where in fact, the problem is with two weeks of dessert at every meal.  Or something similarly glorious.

Or another:

Your top customer is looking to cancel his account because he isn’t seeing any value from the product any more.  He used to love the product, but over time, with all the updates and changes, nothing works as well as it used to and he wants to move to a competitor.  It appears that he obviously has objections to change.

If you were to ask what he used to love about the product, why he feels it was better before, why he thinks the product doesn’t work as well now, you’d discover that actually he struggles some with technology and is finding it challenging to keep up to date with the changes.  A simple support strategy to help guide him through the changes could be all he needs to stay your top customer.

The discipline of the 5 Whys is a process of asking why until you get to the root cause of a problem.  Often the root is not what you expect!  This process will also reveal the relationship between the problem and the root, enabling you to make positive changes in both the problem you are facing, and what will inevitably be a larger organizational ( or personal ) area with room for improvement.  It could look like this:

There’s no coffee.

1 Why not?

The coffee machine is broken.

2. Why is it broken?

The fuse in the plug blew.

3. Why did it blow?

The electricity in the kitchen has been surging

4. Any idea why it’s been surging?

I think there’s some problems with the electrical cords…. I’m pretty sure I saw some exposed wires.

5.  Any idea why there are exposed wires?

Oh  – I think the guy who came to fix the electricity last week left in a hurry and left some stuff undone.


So – buying coffee or getting another coffee machine wouldn’t have fixed the problem – and you uncovered a potentially dangerous root cause.


Give it a go…. look at the top thing you’re procrastinating on and ask yourself 5 whys.




Happy Friday! Don’t Drink and Facebook


The Silent No



This is the beginning of what will one day be a book, written just as soon as I come up with some genius formula for handling The Silent No.

If you’re not familiar with the phrase, it is when rather than giving you a ‘no’, or ‘check back in a few weeks’ in regards to whatever it is that you may be discussing, the person you are in conversation with simply ignores you in the hopes you’ll go away.  Rather than have to deal with a difficult ( 2-second) situation or having to justify their answer (ok fair enough but surely not to those you have a working relationship with?) they simply ignore all further communication with you until, after weeks of frustration and not-knowing, you eventually crawl back under your rock.

I’m discovering that in business development, many don’t like to ever give a ‘no’ in case they want to later change their mind or worse, in case I’m the next Facebook and they become that idiot that turned down Facebook.

I’m also discovering that in general, if someone is busy and doesn’t want to engage in a conversation that week, they also will simply ignore you – sometimes for weeks – until the point in time in which they are ready to again proceed.

The trouble is – both situations look on the surface like The Silent No.  The solution?  Weekly diary reminders to ’email Frank again to touch base’ until eventually the stars align and he is ready to move forward or until I finally lose the will to live and relegate Frank’s details to the  ‘if we ever are really really successful don’t let this guy use our tech’ pile.

Like I said, I don’t yet have a genius formula, but would love to hear from those of you that think you might have insight… or who just want to rant.

New Horizons


You can’t move forward while staying in the same place.

That’s my mantra for this season.  Today marks 16 years that I’ve been in my beloved London, and 2 weeks from now marks the move to pastures anew.  In 2 weeks my husband and I move to San Francisco, California.  Having never lived in the States before (other than a couple random stints) I am adequately nervous and excited, in equal parts.  Although the excitement is definitely winning the war.

So stay tuned, for lessons learned in the American tech market, and in the journey of new relationships, new adventures, and a whole list of things you’ll know not to do once I’ve done them.


Admittedly,  I haven’t blogged in a while.

One thing that I’ve found rather tricky in writing about what not to do is when the lessons some are learning are at a company you are close to and obvious ties can be drawn.  Maybe in the months and years to come I can begin to revisit some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past season in a more anonymous way.  Lessons a lot of us have learned, alignment of vision, along with changes in the market and a whole heap of other factors that have led us to where we are now.  For one company my husband is consulting for that ‘where’ is a pivot.

Pivots are exciting.  For those of you not familiar with the term Eric Reis, author of The Lean Startup is often credited with coining this term and describes it as “the idea that successful startups change directions but stay grounded in what they’ve learned. They keep one foot in the past and place one foot in a new possible future. Over time, this pivoting may lead them far afield from their original vision, but if you look carefully, you’ll be able to detect common threads that link each iteration“.  (Eric Reis, Startup Lessons Learned, June 2009)

Some of my favourite pivots are:

YouTube:   previously a dating site

Flickr:        previously a role-playing game

Groupon:   previously a web community for mobilizing social actions     (downhill pivot? lesser moral purpose anyway…)

There are heaps but these are just a few fun examples.  A pivot isn’t only just from one purpose or customer problem to another though.  Forbes describes well the 8 most recognised pivots so I won’t reinvent the wheel.

If you haven’t read up yet on pivots and your business is in great need of change maybe now is the time.  To sum it up… don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.



Culture Shock & Other Things

Creating change is easy  (ok not that easy, but easier…).  Sustaining change, is hard.

I can cut my hair, quit my job, jump on the wagon, scrap all my systems, decide on new systems, all quite easily.  Sustaining these changes well is a whole different story.

Implementing a new process in to a business I have decided is a whole lot like losing weight.  With a goal in sight and sheer determination just about anyone can lose weight.  It’s exciting seeing the change and the benefit… enough to make the pain worth it.  But once you’ve hit your goal, a lifetime of bad habits and comfort-based behaviours start creeping in.   Before you know it life takes over and we’ve slipped back to what we know best or are most familiar with.  Of course this will at some point cause us to blame the process (or in this example whatever fad diet we got the results with) leading us to select another process – and we’re off again.  Change has to be sustainable.

Change in the workplace is similar.  We have a problem, so we find a solution, implement and often voila! we get results.  But over time we slip back in to our old habits, back to whatever is most comfortable.  My advice?  Don’t ignore the steps required to make change sustainable, and don’t ditch the process when things go a little wobbly for a new, shinier process (unless yours really is awful).  Consistency in an organisation can be a real battle, but one worth fighting, as this is what real growth is built upon.

Objections to Change


Change is a funny thing.  When things are changing that are out of our control we often struggle against it, yet when nothing is changing we kick against that too.  Then there is the change that we enable, that we own.

What normally happens when we look to implement change and come up against resistance?  We fend our corner whilst the opposing party fends theirs, until someone eventually pulls rank.  Then, not surprisingly, the change is implemented in an often-painful manner that causes disruption and misalignment amongst teams or individuals.

What if?

What if we were to take the time to allow those whom the change effects to feed back on our proposed changes and give objections?  What if we then took the time to consider those objections and responded accordingly?  Sometimes the objections are because those affected don’t have the full picture, but sometimes those objections are valid and could save you a lot of grief later on down the line.

How many times have you come out of a train wreck of a situation only to have someone say ‘I knew that was going to happen’?  Although not particularly helpful at that stage, that feedback could have been a lifesaver if sought earlier on.

Often we avoid the objections, as we just want to get on with the changes and don’t want the delays caused by considering objections and doing the legwork involved in considering opinions.  I would argue this time would more often than not be less than the time wasted when a change is executed, only to fail.

In taking this route of considering objections, although more lengthy in the planning, you also gain buy-in from those being effected by the change, as well as their support.  In my experience, leading people through change is a whole lot more pleasant than forcing them.



Failing To Plan



Planning.  At one stage of my life I was the avid planner, enjoying the planning and dreaming for whatever expedition I was off on next nearly as much as the journey itself.  It used to drive my ex-husband crazy.  To him, planning felt rigid and controlling.  To me, it was dreaming of what could be.

Maybe it was because I realised over time that things never go to plan that I stopped planning.  Maybe it was because ‘winging it’ was always way more fun.  If you wing it for long enough you build a confidence that you can pull anything off, without planning.  That place, is a dangerous place.

I’ve been learning a lot of lessons lately in and around the value in planning.  Really planning.  Thought through, documented, challenged, agreed planning.  The painful kind that takes way too long and is laboriously painful when all you want to do is Get Going.  In capitals.

Yet the planning stage is the time in which you find out if your plan will work, before it costs you time, resource, money, friends, or whatever your half-cocked plan ends up robbing you of.  The planning stage is how you get to the end of the project and everyone has built the same thing.  And completed at the same time.  And they’re still speaking.

Most recently I’ve been spending my time delving in to the Theory of Constraints and Critical Chain philosophies.  Simple, clear cut methods of ensuring that The Goal is always in sight, with each and every member of your team confident in their role in achieving the goal.

In practicing what I preach, I have only just emerged from 2 weeks of project plan hell.  Mainly hell because I skipped the first couple steps around really confirming and documenting scope before beginning to plan, and so began the 47 versions of Microsoft Project plans.  But once we had at last an agreed plan, this past week has been a week of successful execution.  We still have a lot to learn about just what level of detail works best for us, but we’re getting there.   And this is only the beginning.


Creativity Vacuums

I have not blogged for a long, long time.

Currently in a move to distance myself from all blame of procrastination, I am blaming my inability to write on the fact that my job is consuming all of my creative thought.  I have a theory around creativity and seasons… this season, according to my theory, is not good for music or blogging, apparently.

That said – I’m back with tons to blog on as a result of all the creativity that has gone in to the business I’m a part of.   New business theories, lessons, screw-ups, genius moments and other insights to impart.

But for now – Happy New Year!!  Today also marks my one year anniversary of being married to the best thing since sliced bread.  Lots of lessons there too… mainly in how not to be a pain in the ass.

Watch this space…


Stretch Marks


More and more I am discovering just how uncomfortable growing really is.  It’s a tug-of-war; old self vs new self and it leaves stretch marks I must warn you.

Each time we are in a season in which we are being stretched everything in us wants out.  Out, back to a place where we can be confident, back to a place where we are self-assured, and we reason that we’re ‘just not as strong here’ or something along those lines.  The trouble is, real growth never happens when we’re comfortable.

Real growth happens when we are just getting through by the skin of our teeth.  Real growth happens in the fire.  We often so long to be better than we are, smarter, of greater character, but these traits all come with a hefty price tag.  Wanting growth without stretching is like wanting to lose weight without making any lifestyle changes.  Unlikely.

So wherever you are in this season, if you’re uncomfortable; embrace it.  Know that in this you are growing… even if only in patience.  In business patience goes a long way, so don’t underestimate what you might be gaining this very minute, as you sit at your desk, gaining stretch marks.