Designing and Conducting Performance Improvement Interventions

 You can also read more about the 5 Whys here.


Designing and Conducting Performance Improvement Interventions


Benjamin Franklin has been quoted as saying: “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

In other words, unless we continuously review and analyze our practices, while seeking constant growth and enhanced performance, what changes we make now are only temporary and will have no lasting effect on our performance improvement. Performance improvement interventions are necessary to continuously analyze and reinvigorate the performance of organizations.


There are a number of models and methods available to aid in designing and conducting performance improvement interventions. In this presentation, we will briefly cover the following:

  • The 5 Whys Method
  • The IRAC Method
  • The PDCA Model
  • Seven New Quality Tools, including diagrams and charts
  • Six Sigma and DMAIC


The 5 Whys is more commonly known in business than the IRAC method, the latter being largely used in law rather than business, generally. However, the two can actually be combined in some cases.


The 5 Whys is a Six Sigma technique developed in manufacturing that helps people get to the root source of a quality problem (Adams, 2008). The technique is known as the “Five Whys” because experience shows that by asking at least five whys you will get to the core problem, though you should not stop asking why until you’ve exhausted all possible answers.

There are 4 steps to performing a 5 Whys analysis:

  1. Write down the specific problem
  2. Ask why the problem occurs and write down the answer
  3. Ask why that answer is being caused and write down that response
  4. Repeat step three until the team agrees a root cause has been found

Consultants like myself know that by identifying the cause of a problem, the problem is 80% closer to being solved. It may sound too easy, but often the root cause to an issue has been completely misinterpreted or overlooked, and performing a root cause analysis like the 5 Whys can ensure that performance improvement initiatives are addressing the real problem, rather than temporarily relieving a symptom.


In law school, students often learn about the IRAC Method. This acronym stands for:

  • Issue
  • Rule
  • Application
  • Conclusion

Issue is the core of the analysis being performed. It is the problem identified in step 1 of the 5 Whys, the problem your team is getting together to address.

Rules are statements that cannot be ignored without punishment (Law School Survival, n.d.), the statement of the rules pertinent in deciding the issue stated. In a legal situation, such as what typically uses the IRAC method, this could mean the precedents, statutes, or the constitution. In a business situation, this could mean the company’s mission and goals, policies and procedures, as well as the state, federal and local laws that govern the organization’s industry.

The Application or Analysis section applies the rules to the specific facts of the issue at hand (Wikipedia, n.d.). In business, this means applying the corporate mission, policies, and legal regulations to the issue being analyzed. There are times, of course, when policies need to be changed or updated, but generally the rules laid out in the above section are ones that must be adhered to while formulating a solution to the issue presented.

The Conclusion directly answers the question presented. It is important for the methodology of the IRAC that the conclusion not introduce any new rules or analysis. This section restates the issue and provides the final answer.


Using the IRAC Method to analyze the root cause identified with the 5 Whys Method, can help ensure that solutions developed align with company policy, corporate vision, and applicable legal regulations.


The plan-do-check-act cycle has been an integral part of quality management for several decades (Gupta, 2006).

It was developed in the 1920’s, during the dawn of modern quality tools. Today, the ISO 9001 quality management standard specifies use of the PDCA model for managing processes and creating process oriented thinking.


The quality community is well acquainted with the seven old tools: cause and effect diagrams, stratifications analyses, check-sheets, histograms, scatter diagrams, Pareto analyses and control charts. The old tools have proven their worth when mapping existing processes to learn about performance capability and characterization (Levesque and Walker, 2007).

Now, ASQ has recognized the value of seven new quality tools by including them in the higher level bodies of knowledge for several certifications.

We will now review each of these briefly, based on definitions from an excellent article by Justin Levesque and Fred Walker (2007).


The Affinity Diagram is one of the basic tools used to stimulate creativity and bring structure to the brainstorming process (Levesque and Walker, 2007). It is especially useful in any interdepartmental project. It helps put team members at ease with one another because the tool is designed to welcome a diverse range of ideas.


The Relations Diagram discovers causes and effects of problems. It identifies the cause of problems that can occur in high-level strategic planning by systematically linking the many factors that contribute to a problem, providing a big picture view of what’s at stake.


The Tree Diagram is a logic based tool and is more focused than the affinity or relations diagrams. It starts with a broad category, theme or problem and attempts to break the issue down into granular levels of detail using a branch system. The logic behind the tree diagram is that as a broad issue is broken down into finer levels, a solution pathway emerges. The tree diagram is effective after developing affinity and relations diagrams because the ideas from these broader tools can be applied to the tree diagram to help find a clear solution.


When faced with multiple options to solve a problem, the PDPC is useful in assessing all the alternative solutions to find the one that fits best. A PDPC can also be used in a what-if analysis. If a solution or process is already agreed on, the tool can identify what might go wrong if the solution were to be employed. Because a tree diagram might give multiple solutions to the issue at hand, the PDPC is the logical tool to use after the tree diagram to determine which solution has the most promise.


The Arrow Diagram addresses resource problems and bottlenecks during the innovation process. Similar in scope to a Gantt chart, the arrow diagram allows the mapping and scheduling of multiple tasks. The tool is valuable when resources must be allocated across an interdepartmental project. When significant penalties occur if a project falls behind schedule, resource allocation becomes an important focus.


The Matrix Diagram shows relationships between groups of information. It draws out interrelated factors, illustrating how changing one factor might affect others. The strength of the relationship can be characterized as varying degrees of positive and negative. Many different shapes for the matrix diagram are possible.


Finally, the Matrix Data Anlaysis is a mathematical technique that quantifies the interrelated factors created in the matrix diagram. Weights are given to the interrelated factors when hard data are unavailable; software programs using statistical correlation methods are used to quantify the relationship between factors when data are available. Due to the mathematical rigor involved, matrix data analysis is the most complex of the new tools.


“Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.” – H. James Harrington

According to ASQ, Six Sigma is a method that provides organizations tools to improve the capability of their business processes (n.d.). One of these tools is DMAIC.


Different definitions have been proposed for Six Sigma, but they all share some common threads:

  • Use of teams that are assigned well-defined projects that have direct impact on the organization’s bottom line.
  • Training in “statistical thinking” at all levels and providing key people with extensive training in advanced statistics and project management. These key people are designated “Black Belts.”
  • Emphasis on the DMAIC approach to problem solving.
  • A management environment that supports these initiatives as a business strategy.


DMAIC is a Six Sigma process used to find shortcomings in the existing processes, determine how to best correct them and implement changes for the future (Sanders, 2011). It is a data-driven quality strategy used to improve processes, and an integral part of a Six Sigma initiative. But in general, it can be implemented as a standalone quality improvement procedure or as part of other process improvement initiatives.

DMAIC is an acronym that stands for:

  • Define
  • Measure
  • Analyze
  • Improve
  • Control


Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

In performance management, a larger percentage of planning and analysis can push an organization a great deal closer to true performance excellence. A root cause analysis such as the 5 Whys ensures that the real problem is the one being addressed, ensuring we do not get hung up on the symptoms.

Following up a root cause analysis with quality tools such as Six Sigma’s DMAIC can ensure that quality measures are put into place that will result in a vital and real change to an organization’s methods and practices, even its culture. The time spent on quality control, performance management, and root cause analysis can be the key to success for any company.

Reviewing these tools and concepts with you is a measure I hope will help you see their usefulness, and understand the power of designing and conducting performance improvement interventions.



Adams, J. (2008). The Five Whys. Supply House Times, 51(10), 16-16, 18.

ASQ (n.d.). What is Six Sigma? And DMAIC Process. Retrieved from:

Law School Survival. (n.d.). The IRAC Method. Retrieved from:

Sanders, M. PhD. (2011, March). Putting DMAIC of Six Sigma in Practice: International Journal of Business and Social Science, 2.5.

Wikipedia. (n.d.). IRAC. Retrieved from:



Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *