Improvement tools: Five Ws and one H

Page last updated: Tuesday, 11 July 2017 - 11:57am

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

The Five Ws and one H tool is easy to use.  It can be used for lots of things including planning action and solving problems. The five Ws stand for the questions who, what, where, when and why, and the H stands for how.

Using Five Ws and one H to solve a problem

When using the tool to help solve problems a useful order for the questions is: what, where, when, why, how, who.

  • What is the problem?
  • Where is it happening?
  • When is it happening?
  • Why is it happening?
  • How can I overcome the problem?
  • Who will I need to involve?

Here is an example using the Five Ws and one H to look at a problem in a car sales business.

  • What is the problem: sales volume is down.
  • Where is it happening: at the North City site.
  • When is it happening: during winter.
  • Why is it happening: all members of staff (including the whole sales team) are off work for one or two weeks with severe flu.
  • How can I overcome the problem: ensure staff at all locations are vaccinated for flu each year.
  • Who will I need to involve: all staff.

Using Five Ws and one H to plan action

When using Five Ws and one H to plan action the most useful order for the questions is: why, what, how, where, when, who.

  • Why is action needed?
  • What is the goal?
  • How will the goal be achieved?
  • Where will the actions be implemented?
  • When will the actions take place?
  • Who is responsible for the actions?

Other tools to use with Five Ws and one H

Five Ws and one H can be used in Steps 4 and 5 of the CI&I - Continuous improvement and innovation process.

It is often useful to use the SMARTT goal tool and Critical success factors (CSFs) and key performance indicators (KPIs) before using Five Ws and one H. This will mean you are targeting action that will have the most impact on your goals.

Several other business improvement tools can be combined with the Five Ws and one H to help solve problems. The Repetitive why technique can help with the 'what' and 'why' questions, and How-how diagrams can help with the 'how' question.

Support to use the tool

Please contact us if you would like help to use Five Ws and one H.

Worksheets to help you use the tool can be found in the 'Documents' section on the far right.