Why ‘The why’ is important

An extension and improvement to the 6W Framework

The 6W formulae by Ferrell is used from strategy and marketing to agile user stories. It is a set of question prompts to describe a situation, project or concept. It’s powerful because it is flexible, memorable, simple and all encompassing.

However, there are two less documented problems with this model.

  1. The words you use around this framework matter. It is easy to use this framework wrong. If you ask the wrong question you won’t have the robust data you need. The language you use and the goal you are trying to get too mean more than the framework.
  2. The 6W’s are not equal. Some questions matter more than others, and the WHY actually runs throughout.

Classic 6W in action

User Definition 6W’s:

WHO are our users?

WHAT are we helping with?

WHERE are the users based?

WHEN are they engaging?

HOW are they motivated?

WHY do they need this a solution?

Product Teams 6W’s

WHO is doing the work?

WHAT are we making?

WHERE are we documenting?

WHEN is the deadline?

HOW are we delivering?

WHY is this important to the user?

I wanted to illustrate above how the use of language effects the model. This is the same 6Ws model applied to different concepts. You get different answers and results because of the words you put around the framework.

If I am not focused on the goal of what I am creating I could very easily ask the wrong question and miss out of a key piece of data.

Example: Instead of asking “Who our users are”, I could have asked “Who is documenting this user study”. Now I’m mixing the concepts between a project focus and a user focus. And it not obvious.

A solution to this problem is to define your goal at the top of your 6W’s and check if you are relating your question language to the goal.

Not all W’s are Equal

The other problem in the 6W model is the assumption that all questions are equal. They are NOT.

The who and the what – matters far more than the where and the when. We often see the model as equal circles linked together. (See below)

But its the WHY that we should concern ourselves with. The WHY runs throughout this model. The Why requires us to question more, and to interrogate our questions and answers more vigourously. (Example Below)

User Definition 6W’s:

WHO are our users?

WHAT are we helping with?

WHERE are the users based?

WHEN are they engaging?

HOW are they motivated?

The ‘WHY’ throughout:

WHY these users?

WHY are we helping?

WHY are the users based there?

WHY are they engaging?

WHY are they motivated?

As you can see illustrated above, using the why throughout next to the 5W’s allows for a more thorough view of our focus.

Why ‘the why’ is the most important question

The WHY+5 model shown above as an improvement on the original. This model gives extra attention to particular questions and ‘the WHY’ runs throughout. The WHY is not a 1 time question anymore. It’s used as a check and balance throughout to make sure you are on the right path.

Next time you are stuck for answers, or questioning if you are on the right path… try asking why.