Five Whys. A commonly used root cause analysis tool, the Five Whys is simple to use
and is suited for almost any problem.
The project team starts with the problem to be overcome and then works backward,
asking the question “why” no fewer than five times by formulating new “why” questions
based on each answer.
Take this example of a late motion for summary judgment.
• Why was the motion filed late? The in-house attorney did not receive the draft
declarations until the day before the deadline.
• Why did the in-house attorney receive the draft late? The relevant witnesses
were not available to provide the necessary verifications and signatures.
• Why wasn’t the in-house attorney informed in advance about the need for
verifications? Because the in-house attorney and the outside counsel did not have
discussions in advance to create a list of required documents for a complete MSJ
• Why wasn’t there a plan in place? Because no communication protocols had
been established at the outset of the matter concerning work product timelines,
matter progress reporting cadence, and issue escalation protocols
Thus the root cause is found. When the team identifies a cause that is likely
to prevent the problem from happening in most situations; a likely root
cause has been reached. In this case, a proposed process improvement solution
could include the creation of a filing checklist for common motion types and a schedule
of internal deadlines for in-house review and the creation of or revisions to outside
Y = f(x): This is a free-form tool that can help legal teams better scope their process
improvement efforts that relate to broad and complex problems. Through a process of
elimination, Y = f(x) analysis helps legal teams create focus and prioritization in paring
complex problems down to a manageable size. Take this example, in which the “Y”
represents high total costs in a specific area: routine employment litigation.
The first step is to list all identifiable reasons for excessive spend in this area: increasing
case volume, increasing settlement costs, or high legal fees.