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5 Ws rule in product management


In journalism, research and police investigations there is a concept of 5 Ws. What is it and how is it relevant to product management?


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:
Who
What
When
Where
Why
Some authors add a sixth question, how, to the list:
How
If your story covers the five Ws - people will read it. A product manager needs to write stories all the time. We can use the "5 Ws" concept to make our stories more appealing.

Who

A good story starts with a hero. In most cases for us, it's our customer. We need to describe them so our readers could empathise with them. Here we can use our personas, jobs-to-be-done, photos, biographies...
Tip: it's better to describe a single, real person than an archetype. Easier to empathise with a person than a collection of traits.

What

That's the place to describe a problem. What your hero wants to achieve, what didn't work or blocked a person from achieving their Why. We can use customer journey map here, or a mind-map, or interview notes.
Tip: "show, don't tell". If possible, show your team customer's struggle - empathy guaranteed.

When

Here we can add details around the urgency of the story we're describing. Why is it important now? What if don't do anything - could the problem just go away with time? How much time do we have to solve the problem until it's too late?
Tip: the most recent, most urgent stories tend to jump to the top of the priorities list. 

Where

For most stories the wider context is important. Your team will appreciate the bigger picture, it might help them to scope the solution better. Knowing wherein a process a problem appeared is vital to a good story. Even if our product solves only a small part of a process - knowing the whole thing is beneficial.
Tip: draw a process so your team knows what a customer did before and what is meant to be done after. 

Why

Some product people start with Why. And rightly so. Without a compelling Why the story might cease to exist. In journalism, the Why is sometimes omitted on purpose so readers could make their own mind. In product, we shouldn't forget about the Why even if it feels obvious. We describe the main motivation of our customers, why they're doing something and what they want to achieve.
Tip: try five why's to get to the true motivation of your story.

A bonus question: How?

When we want to give the maximum context to our team we might add the How to our story. It could be a video of a customer performing an activity and encountering a problem. It could be a detailed description of the steps a customer took, results achieved and the outcome expected.
Tip: we never tell our team how to solve a problem, we stick to describing the problem. 

Our products only as good as our stories

The essence of product management is to uncover a problem in a market and bring an understanding of that problem back to our team. We do that by creating compelling stories. For a good story, we can use the "5 Ws" rule of who, what, when, where and why. Here's an easy way to remember "5 Ws", by Rudyard Kipling
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.

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