Every organization irrespective of its size, faces a lot of problems on a daily basis that demands innovative solutions. That is where a powerful tool like the 5W2H method comes into play, which can transform the organization’s approach to problem-solving.
The 5W2H method is a structured approach to dissecting and solving complex problems using critical thinking. Using this tool along with other problem-solving tools is a great way to promote continuous improvement and better decision-making in organizations.
In this article, I am going to discuss the 5W2H problem-solving method in detail along with its benefits and one example, also discuss how to use this powerful tool for problem-solving to generate innovative solutions and enhance decision-making.
Are you ready to add one more powerful problem-solving tool to your toolkit? Then, let’s get started…
What is the 5W2H Method?
Let’s say you are a detective on the hunt for answers to the complex case you are solving. You need to gather information about that case, analyze different clues, and then put all the pieces together to solve the complex puzzle i.e. your case.
Similarly, in the business world organizations come across different problems on a daily basis and to solve such complex problems professionals prefer to use the 5W2H method. This method helps professionals solve any complex problem using a critical thinking approach.
This is a structured approach to problem-solving that helps you explore all aspects of the situation or problem at hand. This is done by asking 7 fundamental questions i.e. Who, What, When, Where, Why, How, How Much, etc.
Each question represents a unique facet of the problem and by answering or examining them in detail, you can get a complete understanding of the situation or problem at hand. Later in the article, I will discuss those 7 questions in detail.
If you see where this tool comes from I am sure you feel a little bit surprised after hearing this that tool has its origin in journalism. Initially, journalists used this 7-question approach to gather information and provide detailed new reports.
Over time, because of its effectiveness, the 5W2H method later became popular in different fields like project management, business problem-solving, and quality management practices like Lean Six Sigma. Ultimately it becomes an integral tool for continuous improvement.
Let’s understand what each of these 7 questions actually defines:
1. What (What is the issue or problem?)
- The first question helps you identify and then define the problem clearly. What exactly happening in the problem scenario? What are the key factors and elements involved in the problem? What are the objectives, goals, or desired outcomes?
2. Who (Who is involved or responsible?)
- This 2nd question identifies the individuals or groups involved in the problem or project. Who is responsible, affected by to problem, or can provide a solution to the problem? This question helps identify the human aspect (stakeholders involved) of your problem.
3. When (When does it happen?)
- Time is a critical factor in problem-solving, this question helps to identify the time and scheduling aspects of the problem.
- When did the problem occur or when will it need to be addressed? Is it a recurring problem or does it have a specific timeframe associated with it?
4. Where (Where does the problem occur?)
- This question helps you identify the location or place where the problem or issue occurred. Where is the problem situated or where will the solution be implemented? Are there any specific places or locations where it is more likely to occur?
5. Why (Why is it happening?)
- This question helps identify the reasons or root causes behind the problem. Why is the problem happening? What are the underlying factors that are contributing to the problem? Why is it important to solve a problem or issue?
6. How (How is it happening?)
- This question provides the methods or processes related to the problem. How does the problem occur in the system or process?
- How it is impacting the people or processes in the organization? What methods, processes, or actions are needed to solve the problem effectively?
7. How Much (How much is involved?)
- At the last, this question quantifies the problem and helps in assessing the scale of the problem. How much does it cost?
- How much time it will required to solve the problem? How much effort is required to solve it? How much resources are involved?
Answering these questions helps you understand the problem or any issue from all sides and helps you make the proper decision to solve the problem as you collect a lot of relevant information about the problem by using the 5W2H Method.
Example of 5W2H analysis
Now let’s understand these 7 questions with the help of one simple example: Let’s say John is a manager in XYZ retail store, and as a manager, he has noticed a decrease in sales over the last 4 to 5 months.
To understand this problem, he applied the 5W2H method and gathered information about the problem. For all the 7 questions he got the answers, we can call those answers problem-related information. See below…
- Who is involved? Answer: Customers, store employees, and some new competitors, etc.
- What is the problem? Answer: Declining sales in the retail store.
- Where is the problem occurring? Answer: In the retail store.
- When did the problem first occur and when does it happen? Answer: Sales started declining 5 months ago and the problem is ongoing.
- Why is this problem happening? Answer: Possible reasons include changes in the customer’s preferences, increased competition, or some economic factors.
- How is the problem happening? Answer: Investigate the specific factors that may be contributing to the problem such as marketing strategies, daily operations, inventory management, or customer service.
- How much does the problem affect the store? Answer: Calculate the extent of the sales decrease, potential revenue loss, and its impact on profitability.
With this way of analysis, John can gather useful information about the problem and then develop an effective strategy to solve the problem of declining sales in his retail store. You can refer to this example and start applying the 5W2H method at your workplace.
When to use the 5W2H method?
- The best use of this tool is during complex problem-solving work. This method can help you gather relevant information about the problem using 7 fundamental questions and you can identify the root causes of the problem as well as develop solutions for it.
- You can use this during process improvement projects. To optimize the business processes, this method can be used to identify the process bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and areas of improvement. It helps you understand the current state of the process and suggest changes.
- Project managers also use this method during project planning to clarify the project requirements, objectives, and constraints. The 5W2H method helps the project manager define project scope, timelines, budget, team member’s roles/responsibilities, etc.
- Like problem-solving, you can use this method for risk analysis as well. During process improvement or other business projects, you can use this method to identify potential risks, their causes, and consequences and prepare your team to mitigate risks effectively.
- You can use this method for root cause analysis as well, specifically during Six Sigma projects. Becasue this method systematically explores different factors and circumstances that contributed to the process problem.
- This can also help you in effective data-driven decision-making. The 7-question structured approach helps you gather all the relevant information about the problem, which makes it easy for you to assess the implications of different choices & make effective decisions.
How to use the 5W2H method for problem-solving?
Now you know the fundamental concepts of the 5W2H method, it is time to understand the steps to use this problem-solving tool at your workplace. See the steps that I am going to share are for your reference, not the standard format that you need to follow.
You can refer to these steps and make changes to them as per your workplace requirements or the problem you are solving. Let’s see those simple steps one by one:
1. Start with Defining a problem or situation:
In the first, you should clearly define the problem or situation that you want to analyze. When you define it clearly, all the people involved in this 5W2H analysis understand why the team using this method and how they are going to implement it.
This step is essential whether you are using this tool for process improvement or for project planning. Every team member who is involved in the project must know why the team using this method and how the team is going to execute it.
2. Create 5W2H questions framework:
Create a framework of 5W2H questions considering the problem or situation you want to analyze. Above in the article we discussed the standard framework of 7 questions, refer to that, and create questions as per your problem or situation requirements.
Don’t set a limit that each question from the 7 fundamental questions has only one answer. Multiple people (team members) involved during the 5W2H analysis consider multiple opinions or answers to each question.
It’s a collective team effort for problem-solving. Examples like why the problem is occurring and 2nd question can be why solving the problem is necessary. Both these questions are for the same WHY and have individual answers, that you need to consider for analysis.
3. Answer each question from the 5W2H framework:
Once you created the 5W2H questions framework as per your requirements, the next step is to answer each of these 7 questions you have created. Brainstorm with your team members and consider everyone’s opinion or answer to each question.
For this question-answer session, you can use group decision tools like brainstorming, multi-voting, and nominal group techniques. These tools increase your team involvement in this 5W2H analysis and provide you with better insights about those 7 problem-related questions.
Sometimes, your team may get stuck on some questions, unable to answer them immediately. In that case, you should create a plan to answer those questions later. With this proper planning, you can produce better results after the use of the 5W2H method.
4. Go for solution implementation:
After completing the 5W2H analysis you will get a lot of insights and information about the problem. That information can guide you to create a powerful solution to solve the problem.
If you are using this tool during a process improvement project then the output of this 5W2H analysis can help you in optimizing the process for better performance.
If you are using it for project planning purposes then answers to those 7 questions during analysis can help you in creating a proper project plan to achieve the best results.
To solve any problem, optimize any process, or create a project plan, you need a lot of detail. But for the initial start 5W2H analysis provides enough detail to start implementing the solution.
Benefits of the 5W2H Method
- It provides a clear and structured framework for analyzing a problem and helps you get a comprehensive understanding of the problem from all aspects.
- This method guides individuals or project teams through a systematic process of inquiry and reduces the chances of overlooking critical information.
- By asking 7 fundamental questions, the 5W2H method helps you identify the root causes of a problem that leads to effective problem-solving.
- When you use this tool it promotes communication within teams and organizations by ensuring that everyone is involved and is on the same page of understanding about the problem.
- This method helps you in effective decision-making during project management and process improvement work by providing a comprehensive view of the problem or current state of the project.
- You can use this method in conjunction with other problem-solving tools like 5 whys analysis, fishbone diagram, and brainstorming for process improvement and project planning.
The invaluable problem-solving 5W2H method empowers organizations to uncover the root causes of daily workplace problems by gathering relevant information about the problem using 7 fundamental questions and also devising effective solutions.
Whether you are streamlining workflow, optimizing processes, or enhancing products/services, the 5W2H method provides a systematic approach to producing effective outcomes. By promoting critical thinking & collaboration this method makes it easy to understand the problem.
It creates a robust framework for decision-making and planning, enhancing your ability to reach data-driven and sustainable solutions to the problem. (Check out – EALSS Academy for learning on-demand industrial skills)
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