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Step 1 – Identify the Opportunity

5 Whys
By Christoph Roser at AllAboutLean.com under the free CC-BY-SA 4.0 license.

So, you have a problem, I mean “opportunity” for your community organisation. The first step is actually to identify the challenge you need to resolve. This is not as easy as it may appear at face value. Members can often bring attention to a particular problem they believe is an issue, but it must be examined carefully. Doing so will ensure that you deal with the real problem instead of just a symptom.

First of all, let’s deal with some definitions, so we are clear on what we are dealing with here. People often get symptoms, problems, or opportunities confused, which is perfectly understandable. Understanding the difference between the two is critical to identifying the real opportunity to be resolved.

What Is A Symptom?

So, what is a symptom? You may be more familiar with the term symptom being used in a medical context. It is still the same in a community organisation. We can assert that a symptom is a sign that indicates the existence of a deeper problem. In a medical sense, this may be that a sniffle is a symptom of a cold or the flu. You may think declining membership is a problem in an organisational sense, but is this a symptom of some more significant underlying issues?

The Problem or Opportunity

The Problem or opportunity is left after dealing with all the symptoms. You also fix all the symptoms by resolving the root cause of what may have appeared initially to be the problem. Identifying the root cause is often best found by applying an old practice called “The Five Whys”. Let’s run through an example of how this might work for a community organisation with the problem of declining membership.

This can be done in several ways. You can do it in a meeting, or a sub-committee might address the issue. You can use pen and paper (a downloadable version of a worksheet is available on the site), butchers paper on a wall or even a whiteboard. The interesting thing is that if you do it in groups, you may come up with several different answers. Whatever the result, make sure you identify the real problem or opportunity to resolve. It is also extremely important to remember that when it comes to criticism, make sure it is behaviour or systems that you criticise and not people.

The Principle of the Five Whys

The Principle of the Five Whys

What do we think the problem/opportunity is here? Our membership is declining
Why? People say our meetings are too long
Why? We don’t observe proper meeting procedures or have a time limit.
Why? We don’t prepare an agenda for our meetings.
Why? We have never done that before
Why? It hasn’t been required that the secretary send out an agenda or call for items to be put on an agenda.
The Real Opportunity Here is To improve how we conduct our meetings, so they are well prepared and run and provide opportunities to include members in the process.

Although this system is called “The 5 Whys”, do not be constrained by the number. You may only have to ask why three times to get to the root cause of the problem. On other occasions, you may need to ask the question eight times.


Going through this exercise to identify the real opportunity, or opportunities, for your community organisation is of great value. It is important to remember to treat these problems or challenges as opportunities to improve your organisation. Adopting such an attitude in your organisation’s culture leads to continuous improvement. This will be reflected in the optimism and participation of your members.  People love solving problems, overcoming challenges and making the most of opportunities. Why not get your organisation to confront whatever they think is not working well and reshape your future.

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