What Does 5 Ws and H Mean?
The term 5 Ws and H refers to the six basic questions to ask when gathering information or solving a problem. The questions are:
The goal of this technique is to gain a factual answer to each question. Answers to all six questions should give clarity to whatever the questioner is trying to discover: the solution to a problem, the answer to a mystery, or even the best way to build a product.
Where Do the 5 Ws and H Come From?
The 5 Ws and H approach to information-gathering originated as a tool to help journalists write their stories. A common rule among newspaper editors is that reporters should answer all six of these questions in the lead paragraph of their news articles.
Although it’s popular in many professions, we refer to the 5 Ws and H technique as “the reporter’s questions.”
Many journalists believe that with the answers to the 5 Ws and H, a reporter has everything they need to write an accurate and compelling story. For example, imagine a crime reporter was investigating a local murder. Using the 5 Ws and H approach, the reporter would use these questions to discover:
- What was the crime?
- When and where did it happen? (And does either the time or location the crime took place to provide any additional clues or insights into the crime itself?)
- How did it take place? (What method did the killer use? Where was the murder weapon? What other details do we know about the crime?)
- Why did the murderer do it? (Did the killer have a rational motive, such as a plan to profit from the crime? Or was it irrational, such as the act of a serial killer?)
- Who did it? (The answers to the questions above will increase the reporter’s chances of learning this final piece of the story: who was responsible?)
As you might have noticed, this technique follows the same type of methodical fact-finding that the police use in solving crimes. Law enforcement also uses the 5 Ws and H approach.
When Should Product Managers Use the Ws and H Technique?
Product managers can use the 5 Ws and H technique to gain clarity on a wide range of issues. Let’s consider two examples.
Writing up a user persona:
- Who is this person? (Demographic information, goals, desires, fears, etc.)
- What do they do in their organization? (Job title, responsibilities, etc.)
- Where do they work? (Industry, size of the company, geographic region, etc.)
- How do they work? (What tools do they use, what people and departments do they work with, etc.?)
- Why would they need our help? (What can our company offer that adds value to this person’s job, business, or life?)
- When would they need the solution we’re proposing? (Where in this person’s workflow or activities can our product or service provide the answer to their problem?)
Building a product roadmap:
- Who are we trying to help with this product? (User persona.)
- What is our product vision? (Big-picture idea about our product’s anticipated impact.)
- Where should we start? (Prioritize major themes and epics.)
- Why will we succeed? (The product’s high-level mission and strategy.)
- How will we do it? (Allocating resources, developing timeframes, assigning budgets.)
- When should we launch? (Planning for the most strategically advantageous but realistic market-release timeframe.)
Using the 5 Ws and H approach allows product managers to organize their thinking and planning in a logical, systematic way. Additionally, because it addresses all of the fundamental questions to a complex problem, this technique also helps ensure that a product team won’t forget to think through any major issues before making strategic decisions and plans on the product roadmap.
So, yes, in our view, product managers can and should use the 5 Ws and H whenever possible.