The 5W’s in business is a simple and effective method that helps you analyze a context in a given situation. In a business context, this notion of project management helps you ask the right questions to understand a specific problem and answer it more efficiently.
It also allows teams to identify several factors, share the same vision of a situation and not go off-topic. Throughout this article, you will discover how the 5W’s method could be used in different business contexts and how you and your projects can benefit from it.
5W’s is an acronym that stands for Who, What, Where, When, Why; some authors add a sixth question, how, to the list.
The 5 W’s is an analysis method, composed of several stages that question the fundamental characteristics of a situation. These simple questions provide factual elements that, once gathered, make it possible to render a universal representation of an event, interest, situation or context.
© Randall Reilly
This method is highly appreciated by journalists for its simplicity (it is only a list of questions to remember) and the universal representation it offers of a situation. It fully respects journalistic ethics, which aims to provide complete and objective information to all.
The aim of this method depends on how it will be used. Here are a few examples in business that highlight the importance of applying this method:
In the context of customer relationship, the 5 W’s will help you to put yourself in the position of the customer. This will allow you to name the right products or services at the right time. This will let your company find out more about :
If this method is used properly and the resulting prospecting or customer loyalty actions are well executed, then it is very likely that your business will gain in efficiency: higher conversion rate, lower customer acquisition cost, less human resources allocated per conversion...
In the context of a meeting inside of a company, the 5W’s main objective is to portray a vision of the topic of the meeting that will be shared by all participants.
Let's take the example of a meeting scheduled due to a drop in sales. The objective here for your company would be to put in place actions to increase revenue. The first step is, therefore, to become aware of the situation, to share this information in order to enter directly into the phase of solving the problem without hesitation. You will notice that in this example there is no room for irrelevant interventions:
Creating a product can be done without any contact with your clients if you have a perfect knowledge of their needs. If this is not the case (most of the time), then you will have to question yourself, or even your potential buyers in one way or another.
The 5 W’s method helps you identify the needs of your targets and you will, therefore, be able to offer them an item that is much more relevant to their needs than the competition. At the end of the day, it means more sales and an increase in market share.
In marketing, the 5 W’s method is widely used to improve the relevance of actions. It is often implemented when KPIs (Key Performance Indicator) are not up to par. This often means that the marketing actions and campaigns of the company are not adapted to the audience.
“The 5 W’s method makes it possible to send better messages, more relevant items to a more targeted market by taking into account their individual context.”
Today, personalized marketing is a very strong trend driven by the collection of personal data, client demands, and legal and technical constraints to counter abusive marketing actions.
Like in marketing, this system makes you familiar with your target. It is frequent in this field to make a table with several columns for each type of target. In this case, it is called a persona (people representative of a customer segment), or a buyer persona.
As we saw above, the 5 W’s method has been widely used in journalism since the beginning of the 20th century in the United States. This method makes it possible to create informative content as opposed to literary content that we are used to with novels and historical narratives
This method makes it possible to share technical, exhaustive, objective and verified information that is appreciated by readers who seek relevant information.
From an HR point of view, this method could be used in business to have an overview of a crisis situation, or a major change in a company among employees for example (collective mobility to accompany a strategic change, social plan, important recruitment campaigns in the event of a growth...).
The 5 W’s method is used in project management to report a situation to high-level project stakeholders within a company (senior management, client, etc.).
This method can be used during a pre-planning meeting as well to provide a quick and regular update. In this case, the 5 Ws facilitate the sharing of information and avoid misunderstandings.
To make this method to work efficiently, you must :
The “Who” should allow you to cover everyone that is concerned and not only the main person involved. You may have several typical clients who should be included in these questions.
In this case, it is interesting to make a table with several entries:
The "What" question refers to the purpose of why you are implementing this methodology. It is often the trigger:
The “Where” identifies the precise place or location linked to the issue raised:
The “When” refers to the time(s) when the event(s) occurs. It may also indicate a period of time or a deadline:
The “How” highlights how the facts are done. It is often a strong element in explaining a situation:
The “How Much” makes it possible to quantify the subject of the problem in question and often to assess its seriousness:
The “Why” relates to the reason or trigger of the situation. It allows us to find the first elements of the answer:
The 5 W’s method is widely used in sales because, as in a journalistic context, the salesperson will be in direct contact with the potential prospect.
In fact, the 5 W’s method allows the salesperson to collect exhaustive and factual information in order to build up relevant successful sales arguments for this specific prospect. To make it simple, the 5 W’s method increases your company’s success by maximizing your chances of selling the same item to two people who are sensitive to different arguments.
Your company produces and sells palm trees:
|Who||Who's going to plant the palm tree?||I don’t know, not me anyway!||I will do it.|
|What||What type of Palm Tree would you like?||I would like two small ones.||A curved palm tree like on heavenly beaches.|
|Where||Where will the palm tree be?||In my garden in Boston.||In my cottage in Orlando.|
|When||By when would you like to have it at the latest?||Within the next 2 weeks.||It doesn’t matter.|
|How||How will you transport it?||I have no idea.||In my trailer|
|Why||Why do you want a palm tree?||It’s resistant and beautiful.||It has always been a dream of mines and I'll be able to rent my cottage more easily.|
In this example, it appears that Julie will be sensitive to the service that your company will provide her (delivery, installation). She has clear ideas about what she wants, but will not be able to transport and plant the palm tree by herself and thinks of no one to do it. Sell her an impeccable service and not a tree!
In the second case, John is more interested in creating perceived value for his cottage than in enriching the flora in his garden. In this case, your business should sell him the most beautiful tree and accessories (warm LED lights, hammock or teak swing). Moreover, your company can reassure him by calculating his return on investment.
The 5 W’s method is a structuring way of analyzing a situation individually or as a team, but it may not be the most effective tool in all circumstances. Here are the limitations of the 5 W’s method:
Here are some tools that will allow your business to structure your approach more efficiently than a manual methodology:
|Category||Advantages||Example of tools|
|Client Relationship and Sales: CRM software||
CRM tools are customizable, meaning that you can add fields to collect the right information about your clients.
Some include a custom sales script to make sure you ask the right questions.
Project management tools offer a high level of information structuring and collaboration.
For example, monday.com offers complete visibility on your projects and tasks: you know who does what, when, where and why.
HRIS and talent management tools enable the collection of essential data to respond quickly to HR challenges.
They provide dashboards that make it possible to understand all aspects of even the most humane HR activity such as employee engagement, motivation, etc.
Email marketing tools automatically manage reminders or suggestions based on buyer behavior.
DMP (Data Management Platform) centralizes all data to initiate relevant actions without human action.
|Idea and meeting management||Ideation solutions enable teams to structure their ideas and put them to intelligent use.||Brightidea|
The 5 W’s method makes it possible to create a universal representation of an event, interest, situation or context in order to achieve a commercial (sales) or problem-solving objective.
It is a simple, effective and above all proven study that can be used in a multitude of fields, although it is highly credited by journalists, entrepreneurs, and sales professionals.
The latter use it to maximize their chances of selling the same items to several individuals sensitive to different arguments as we have seen in the example above.
However, the method has a few limitations that you can overcome by using online tools that offer the possibility to automate the understanding of a particular situation and to take relevant actions.