How I Discovered the Power of Asking “Why?”

U.Group Goes to Harvard: Part One

An account director, a strategist, and a project manager walk into a bar Harvard consulting workshop—no, that’s not the beginning of some elaborate joke. It’s the real-life situation my teammates, Sally Moriarty and Garrett Hoppin, and I found ourselves in when we headed to Cambridge for a two-day workshop entitled “The Consultant’s Toolkit.”

There, we talked shop with consultants from around the world, learned new consulting skills, and may or may not have snuck into a famous Harvard dining hall.

We also each learned important lessons on what it means to be a consultant, which tools we should employ in our line of work, and how we can incorporate them into our everyday partnerships with customers. In this post, I will speak to one of the lessons that spoke loudest to me as an account director—the Ishikawa diagram.

The Ishikawa Diagram Helps Identify Customers’ Challenges

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? An email pops up. You read it, grip the keyboard, and mumble or shout “WHYYYY?!” We’re all guilty if of it sometimes.

The question “why?” almost always comes up in times of anxiety or conflict—and yet, beyond that moment of exasperation, the process of answering the question is often overlooked. While it is human nature to immediately go into solution mode and try to ‘fix’ the issue at hand, the potential impact of digging in further and developing a true understanding of the problem is so much greater. The Ishikawa diagram is a great tool to help you begin that process.

This tool is designed to help teams identify root causes and underlying factors in a system failure. It can help you understand why an event occurs—or continually occurs. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll be able to discover the true cause of the failure, how to remedy it, and how to prevent similar issues from cropping up in the future.

The Ishikawa diagram is also called the Fishbone technique for its appearance—the issue resembles the head, and each cause forms “ribs” off the backbone. While often used to determine quality problems in manufacturing, I found it was a helpful means for thinking through a customer’s account growth strategy.

Using the Ishikawa Diagram in Account Management

Part of my job as an account director is tending to problems—some meaningful and seemingly impenetrable, some superficial and relatively painless—but problems that need solutions, nonetheless. If my team members and I only look to make the obstacle disappear, we’re doing our teams and customers a serious disservice.

That’s a big reason why the Ishikawa diagram stood out to me so much. I had worked with this type of analysis in college, and again when studying for my Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, but the tool took on a new meaning when explored through the lens of thoughtful account planning and strategy.

For example, in thinking about how U. Group can best serve a particular customer, I mapped out pain points I’ve seen in the customer’s landscape. I continued asking myself “Why?” as I thought through their pain points, noting each answer on additional rungs on the diagram.

When complete, the exercise helped guide me toward developing a comprehensive account growth plan that touched on multiple capabilities and noted opportunities for engagement of partners and additional contract vehicles. The output was not only actionable—it was also incredibly helpful when it came time to share my strategy with others for feedback and eventual approval.

So, next time your gut is telling you to bang out obscenities to your team in Slack, take a deep breath and calmly ask yourself “Why?” I guarantee the results will be much more fruitful.

What’s your favorite problem-solving method? Share it with us on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Get alerted to new job postings, events, and insights by registering for our monthly newsletter.