5W2H or 5W1H methods: how and when to use them
The 5W2H method is a tool used to facilitate the analysis, understanding, or description of a situation or a problem. It helps to gather all essential information in a structured manner. The definition of 5W2H is: What, Who, Where, When, How, How many, Why.
How to apply the 5W2H method
Using the 5W2H method involves approaching a situation, problem, or topic by asking a series of structured questions to gain a deeper understanding. Here's a step-by-step approach to implement this method:
- Define the objective:
- Start by clearly identifying the problem or situation you want to clarify. Have a specific goal in mind.
- Apply each question:
- Identify the object or subject of your analysis.
- Example: What exactly is the problem? What is it specifically about?
- Identify the actors or stakeholders.
- Example: Who is affected by this problem? Who are the main actors involved?
- Locate the situation geographically or contextually.
- Example: Where does this problem manifest? Where do incidents occur?
- Frame the topic in terms of time.
- Example: When did the problem start? How often does it occur?
- Describe the process or how things happen.
- Example: How did the problem manifest? How are the actors affected?
- How many?
- Quantify elements if possible.
- Example: How many incidents have been reported? What is the associated cost of this problem?
- Try to determine the cause or reason.
- Example: Why do you think this problem occurred? What might be the underlying causes?
- Gather data:
- For each question, collect as much information as possible. This could involve research, interviews, observations, etc.
- Analyze the responses:
- Once you have gathered data for each question, analyze the information to identify trends, causes, effects, and other relevant insights.
- Make decisions or propose solutions:
- Use the information gathered to propose solutions to the problem, make informed decisions, or develop improvement strategies.
Depending on the objective, the following steps can be added:
Difference between 5W2H and 5W1H methodsThe main difference is the absence of the "How much?" question in the 5W1H method. Depending on the context and specific needs, one method or the other will be employed. 5W1H may be sufficient for many situations, but if a quantitative dimension is essential, then 5W2H might be more appropriate.
For which types of situations is 5W2H suitable?The 5W2H method is a systematic questioning tool that can be used in various situations to ensure a complete understanding of a problem or situation. In the organizational world, we will focus on applications within an organization, especially in the areas of problem-solving and improvement.
Problem-solving and improvement
5W2H is particularly suitable for continuous business improvement as it allows for a structured and in-depth analysis of situations. Here are some situations and improvement methods where it can be applied complementarily:
- Before anything can be improved, the problem must first be identified and understood. 5W2H provides a framework for asking relevant questions to pinpoint the nature, origin, and impact of the problem.
Root Cause Analysis:
- In methods like the "5 Whys" (where "why" is repeatedly asked to pinpoint the root cause of a problem), 5W2H can be used upfront to ensure the entire problem is well understood before digging deep.
DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control):
- In the "Define" phase of DMAIC (used in the Six Sigma method), 5W2H can help clearly define the problem or process to be improved.
- In the "Measure" phase, it can help determine what data is needed and how to collect it.
- In the "Analyze" phase, it can guide the identification of root causes.
Corrective action planning:
- Once a problem is identified and analyzed, before implementing corrective actions, 5W2H can be used to ensure all implications of these actions are understood (Who will do it? When? How? Etc.).
- To understand an existing process or identify improvement areas, 5W2H offers a systematic approach to examining each step of the process.
- During performance evaluations, whether of an employee, team, or operational unit, 5W2H can help structure the evaluation and identify areas of improvement.
- When implementing changes, 5W2H can be used to ensure all aspects of the change have been considered, from required training to evaluating the change's effectiveness.
Other business applications
Here are some common applications in the business world:
Project management: When planning a new project, this method offers a framework to clearly define objectives, timelines, necessary resources, responsibilities, and more.
Market analysis: When evaluating a new market or segment, this method aids in gathering information on potential customers, competition, opportunities, and challenges.
Sales and marketing management: For creating a new marketing campaign or analyzing a product's sales performance, 5W2H guides in gathering essential information.
Human resources management: Whether resolving internal conflicts, planning training, or evaluating employee performances, this method brings structure to the analysis.
Strategic decision-making: When a company considers major changes, such as international expansion, mergers, or acquisitions, 5W2H can assist decision-makers in evaluating the situation from all angles.
Financial evaluations: To understand anomalies or trends in financial reports, this method provides a systematic way to examine the situation.
The 5W2H method is based on an ancestral practice of questioning to fully understand a situation. The structuring of questions in a methodical manner, besides problem-solving, has notably developed in various traditions:
Journalism: Journalists have always relied on essential questions to write a comprehensive article. The fundamentals of questioning are vital to ensure the article covers all aspects of a story.
Philosophy: Philosophers, since antiquity, have posed questions to explore and understand the world around them. Socrates, for example, was famous for his method of questioning.
Police investigations: Investigators ask a series of questions to gather evidence and understand a crime.
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