Project planning should start with the 5 W questions before getting to the How?

With all of the tools, techniques and processes within our profession, we sometimes lose sight of the basic principles of project management.  One way to ensure that you are not over-complicating things is to assess your approach from the perspective of a small child.

On project planning, understanding & communicating the five W’s can provide context and perspective for the low-level details found within the individual project plans.

  1. What – at its very essence, scope definition is about answering the “What do we want to do?” question.  It’s amazing how many projects will consume significant resources (and churn as a result) without having a simple answer.
  2. Why (and Why, Why, Why, and Why?) – if there’s one thing we lose as we grow up, it’s the admirable (?!?) persistence that a small child demonstrates when trying to learn about something new.  We might ask the “Why are we doing this project?” question once or twice, but how often do we probe really deep to understand the fundamental root benefits & motivations that are driving its existence?  We should adopt the traditional performance improvement technique which recommends asking “Why?” five times to ensure that we are not presenting a surface-level driver as the main reason for investing in a project.
  3. Who – Although the What might not have been sufficiently decomposed to identify all of the skills or competencies required, there should be some idea of the critical roles that are required to deliver the What.
  4. When – When is the latest that the What must be delivered to enable the organization to achieve the Why?
  5. Where – where is the optimal location for the work to be performed and where will the What be used?

The project manager’s focus can now shift to the question that too often gets all the attention before there’s a good understanding of the five W’s: How?  This ensures that we don’t spend too much time on approach, methodologies and practices, without having first understood the project’s essence.



Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Project planning should start with the 5 W questions before getting to the How?

  1. Very nice information, thank you for sharing. I want to make one point here is that every project manager should keep a record of all the answers to the 5 W. Many managers take the support project templates like PM Toolkit to record all the information from starting phase of the project to the successful delivery of project to the clients.


  2. Good thoughts Kiron. I just posted in the Project Management Information Network group on LI


  3. Peta

    Excellent contribution, and couldn’t agree more. In essence planning and understanding the project before jumping in to execution.


  4. Planning before anything. One of the biggest mistakes of many companies is to jump on executing before planning or even knowing “what do we need to do?” “What are we looking for?”. Sometimes they don’t even understand what seems to be the problem. Excellent post…with your permission I’ll use it on my on-boarding meetings with team.


  5. Just came across this — timely and timeless insights.


  6. Pingback: How 5 PM Experts Create a Fail-Safe Project Management Plan

  7. Pingback: How 5 PM Experts Create a Fail-Safe Project Management Plan - Hogo RPA

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