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5W1H is shorthand for “Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.” It is used both in problem solving and in project planning.

This set of questions is sometimes referred to as the Kipling Method, due to a poem that appeared in Rudyard Kipling’s 1902 “Just So Stories.”

I keep six honest serving-men

(They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.

Like many tools in continuous improvement, this one provides structure to your thinking process.

Problem Solving

When using it for problem solving, if you address each of the W’s and the H, you will have a better understanding of the issue.

Consider how you might ask these questions if you noticed that your car started getting poor gas mileage.

  • Who noticed the problem? Who drives the car?
  • What changed? (new gas station, maintenance issues on the car, etc.) What was the magnitude of the change?
  • When did the gas mileage get worse? When was it noticed?
  • Where has the car been driving? (new route, different environment, etc.)
  • Why did any changes occur? (Explain why different gas was being used, or why the route changed, or why there was a new driver)
  • How was the problem noticed? How did the conditions that led to the change happen?

Note that these questions could be applied with some flexibility. For example, why something changed and how something changed would have a great deal of overlap.

Project Management

These questions also can be used to check that a project has covered…

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