5, 4 or 3W and 0, 1 or 3 H’s – Understanding a Problem

I love people commenting on my blog so I am especially happy to write a future post early if it is asked for.

A tool that can be commonly used during a problem solving activity to help us sort and organise information is called 5W+2H. It is a great tool in many ways but it is often a struggle to align around the exact definitions of each area. It can also be hard to understand why all parts are important. Let us break it down and take a look:

What is the problem? This one is fairly straight forward. What are the physical “bits”, devices, technologies that are experiencing the problem. We add to this a detailed description of what is wrong with these “bits” and we are done with this part.

Who Observed the Problem? Here we want the name of the person who first saw the problem itself. Why? Theory goes that this person should be a very good source of information. How much does this help us solve the problem is questionable.

Where was the Problem Observed? What we need here is geographical information firstly so where physically on the planet did the problem happen. We also want to know if the problem happened at a particular location on our “bit”. For example: my iPad screen was fuzzy in the top left hand corner. This is useful stuff

When was the Problem Observed? We want to know when it happened for the first time if we can. Subsequent occurences of the problem we will handle later. We can also include information about “when in the process” the problem happened. An example would be if you had a problem with your car, did it happen when before you started it? While it was warming up? When driving at high speed? You get the idea.

Why was the Problem Observed? Hmmmmm…. What the fuck does this mean? This is one of the areas where I see many different interpretations and to be honest, I haven’t seen a single one that adds value to the problem solving process at this stage anyway. What  I teach is a slightly alternative question “Why is it a problem?” but that still is not a great deal of help.

How was the Problem Observed? How did we know there was a problem, what did we see or hear for example. Again interesting but of limited value in most cases.

How Many Times was the Problem Observed? Since the first time the problem was observed. What is the number, period and frequency of occurrence. What trend are we seeing or patterns. Useful.

So if this is the standard tool people use, why question it? Well as you can probably gather my opinion is that some of the information is of limited value particularly at this stage. Would it not make our lives a little easier to concentrate on what helps us?

Kepner – Tregoe are a clever bunch and they do not collect so much information, they focus on what is important.

So let us do away with the less than useful information and the ambiguity.

Please I therefore beg you…. talk about 3W+1H instead. What, Where, When, How Many. You don’t need anything more. At this stage. 

Let me know what you think. Soon I will come with some help on what is a good understanding of the problem and what a normal one is!

Cheers, Lean.

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