Project Management 101: The 5 Ws (and 1 H) that should be asked of every project!

Project Management 101: The 5 Ws (and 1 H) that should be asked of every project!

When your project starts to get complicated it’s time go to back to the fundamentals.  With all the methods, practices, principles, tool and techniques out there at the disposal of the project manager, you can often forgot the fundamental principles of project management.

No better way than to stick to the infamous 5 W’s.  As Wikipedia states:

The Five WsFive Ws and one H, or the Six Ws are questions whose answers are considered basic in information-gathering. They are often mentioned in journalism (cf. news style), research, and police investigations.[1] They constitute a formula for getting the complete story on a subject.[2] According to the principle of the Five Ws, a report can only be considered complete if it answers these questions starting with an interrogative word:[3]

  • Who is it about?
  • What happened?
  • When did it take place?
  • Where did it take place?
  • Why did it happen?

Some authors add a sixth question, “how”, to the list, though “how” can also be covered by “what”, “where”, or “when”:[3]

  • How did it happen

Each question should have a factual answer — facts necessary to include for a report to be considered complete.[4] Importantly, none of these questions can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”.

It’s the kind of inquiry that is taught to children when they’re about to embark on a writing assignment and much like children, we must demonstrate the same kind of dogged persistence and determination that they often exhibit when they are trying to learn something new.

So without further ado, think about answering these question before you start any project:

  1. Why – though it seems so obvious, I’ve often been part of projects where the why question was never asked!  I think sometimes you get so used to being assigned projects with little to no evaluation let alone business case justification, that the fundamental question of “Why are we doing this project” does not get asked.  Really delving into this question will allow you to get at the drivers and benefits that the project is to deliver which will allow you to deliver a project your customer and stakeholders’ satisfaction.
  2. What – this is really the first question you ask when you’re trying to gather requirements for your project to define the scope.  It gets no simpler than “What do we do?”
  3. Who – who are your stakeholders, team, customer that will work on, sponsor and ultimately benefit from when your project is completed?
  4. When – sometimes this question gets asked before all the question we discussed above get answered.  You need to know why, what and who will be part of your project before you can adequately answer when it will get completed.
  5. Where – then after all is said and done, where will your project be done?  Where will it be delivered?  With today’s global and dispersed environments, this question is not as simple as it may seem!

Now that all your core questions have been answered can you answer the question of “how” you will complete your project.  This is really where the methods, practices, tools and techniques get deployed… but not until you have answered in detail the 5 Ws first!

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