What Is a 5W2H Analysis? (And How To Use One Effectively)
Updated June 24, 2022
Business professionals often address complex problems or projects that require critical thinking, planning and organization to complete or solve. When trying to solve a problem or create a system, an analytical process, such as a 5W2H analysis, can provide a framework for collecting relevant information. If you want to ensure efficiency within your organization's processes, it may be helpful to learn more about 5W2H analyses. In this article, we define 5W2H analyses, clarify the steps of this process and share examples and tips for using a 5W2H analysis effectively.
What is a 5W2H analysis?
A 5W2H analysis is a quality management tool requiring no training or equipment to implement. Professionals use this method to analyze and resolve problems in a streamlined manner. 5W2H represents the first letters of the seven questions a professional asks while using this process, which include:
A 5W2H analysis helps interpret a problem and collect data relevant to solving it effectively. An individual or team then creates a model that helps clarify the actionable steps they can take toward ensuring a resolution. Businesses frequently use this methodology to improve strategic planning and assess problems in production or service delivery. The simplicity of this tool allows many companies to use it and create a logical action plan for both basic and complex project management.
When to use a 5W2H analysis
The 5W2H analysis process can be valuable for solving problems personally and professionally. The method helps you describe a problem precisely and accurately, which can result in an efficient solution. Assessing all elements of a problem can generate clarity about how to best correct it and can also help improve an existing process. The system helps identify and prioritize the workflow of projects and helps teams generate time-bound action plans to complete a project.
The 5W2H system simplifies strategic planning because the framework helps define the necessary steps to achieving desired objectives in an effective and efficient way. It ensures that you analyze all aspects of a goal and clarify its steps to define exactly what an organization or individual can accomplish to achieve it.
Related: Ultimate Guide to Strategic Planning
What does each question in a 5W2H analysis mean?
The answers to 5W2H analysis questions may vary for each situation. Here's an explanation of each of the seven questions to clarify how to use this process effectively:
Answering this question is the initial step of the 5W2H process, and this is where a team or professional defines the problem or goal. The answer provides an overview of what the 5W2H analysis aims to resolve. When answering this, try to clearly describe the issue and determine the desired result when resolved or achieved.
The next step in this process entails defining why a problem is occurring or why achieving a goal is important. When using this question to resolve a problem, try to define why the problem is occurring by identifying its primary cause, if possible. It may also be helpful to define why solving the problem is necessary. For a goal, defining the underlying reason for establishing it can help each member on a team, for example, understand why they need to execute particular tasks. This is a key component of this tool because it offers guidance to a goal or project and allows an individual or team to understand its significance.
This step involves clarifying where a problem occurred or where a solution is likely to arise. For a problem, it pinpoints where an individual can discover a solution. For example, if it's a problem regarding a machine, the individual conducting this analysis may determine the machine on which it's occurring and in which setting. If it's a customer problem, consider identifying the exact client's location and discovering whether there are other problems at that site.
When establishing a goal, this step may include locating where the actions to achieve that goal might occur. For example, if a project involves multiple areas or departments, this section specifies where the project meetings and tasks might occur.
This step entails identifying the timeline for when a team can implement a resolution to its problem or perform each step toward achieving its goal. This step may include creating delivery dates for each step of a project. Creating milestones and deadlines during this phase can identify the necessary order of actions and help determine any contingencies within the project's steps.
This might refer to several different aspects of a problem or project, such as:
Who's overseeing the entire process?
Who does the project involve? For example, does it involve internal employees or external providers?
For a problem, who's it affecting?
Who's working on each step of the project?
A manager or supervisor can clearly assign team members to tasks during this step to prevent confusion, duplication or missing steps.
Answering this question thoroughly creates a process for resolving an issue, implementing a solution or achieving a goal. During this step, a team clarifies all necessary steps and assigns them to specific individuals. It might be helpful here to create a flowchart, framework or project plan. The team then also determines which software and methodologies to use to resolve its issue.
This is the phase where a team estimates the expected budget of its project. Using the previous information, a team or specific individuals can determine the costs for each phase of their project. When resolving a production problem, this may also refer to the quantity of a product being remade at a specific cost. When using this for budgeting purposes, consistent accountability follow-up checks might prove valuable to ensure that a team is adhering to its budget throughout its process.
How to create a 5W2H analysis
Here are some steps you can follow to create a 5W2H analysis effectively:
1. Review the situation
This involves clarifying the situation for each party involved—whether it's a problem-solving or project planning meeting. Try to ensure that all involved parties understand the reason why you're creating a 5W2H and how the process works. Finally, consider determining what the team intends to accomplish by explaining the desired outcome.
2. Develop appropriate 5W2H questions
By analyzing 5W2H questions, you can devise ones to create an effective framework. Some questions may require two individual answers. For example, "why" may refer to both why a problem is occurring and why a resolution is necessary. Considering multiple opinions during this step might alert you to situations or questions that an individual may never have considered alone.
3. Answer each question
The next step is to follow the analysis and answer each question. If there are questions that don't elicit an immediate answer, consider creating a plan for how to answer those questions. As a team or individual addresses one question, it often logically leads to answers for the following questions.
4. Implement the solution
A completed 5W2H analysis provides a framework for implementing a solution. When using this tool for problem resolution purposes, the answers to the questions often guide you on how best to resolve your problem. When using this method for project planning or to achieve a goal, the answers form a tentative project plan for achieving your desired result. While more details may be necessary, using a 5W2H analysis can offer enough detail for you to start implementing a solution or plan.
Example of a 5W2H analysis
Here's an example of a 5W2H analysis for improving a sales team's productivity:
*What:**Upgrade sales team software system*
*Why: Outdated software no longer meets company's needs*
*Where: In the sales department*
*When: By the end of the current quarter*
*Who: Sales manager and special software analysis team collaborating*
*How: Analyze five alternative products and determine best replacement*
*How much: Maximum budget for software is $120,000*
This simple outline provides an effective framework for a manager and analysis team to begin researching replacement software options. The "how" stage can help the team create a specific outline for the software testing and analysis process.
Tips for using 5W2H analysis effectively
While no special expertise or tools are necessary for conducting a 5W2H analysis, here are some helpful tips for using this method effectively:
Assign a facilitator
When meeting with a group or team to use this method, consider assigning one person as the meeting's facilitator. The facilitator in this role is responsible for ensuring that the meeting remains relevant, documenting all relevant information and progressing the conversation toward a helpful solution. A manager or team member with a thorough understanding of the problem or goal can be an effective facilitator.
Use brainstorming techniques
The simplicity of this process ensures that no expertise or tools are necessary to conduct it. A facilitator can use idea generation and problem-solving skills to guide a 5W2H discussion. Consider several options to determine the best answer for each step of the process, as the first answer may not be the most ideal.
Related: Guide to Group Problem Solving
Address the seven 5W2H questions in any order
The order in which you answer the 5W2H questions can be flexible. If a team can't generate a clear answer for one question, they can skip it and address the next one. As a group progresses through the process, the other answers often become clear. The order of the questions might also change according to the type of problem or issue you're encountering.
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