Think of someone you know who is a truly engaging storyteller. Who are they? What makes their stories so compelling? Why are they a good storyteller? Where and when do typically you hear good stories?
Think for a moment about your answers to the five questions above. Did you think of a particular author, or maybe a film director? Your favorite podcaster, perhaps? Did anyone you work with come to mind?
Storytelling is a crucial skill in product and project management, but it can feel like an abstract concept. How does telling a good story relate to software development? How can you tell a good story when the language of the industry boils down to 0s and 1s?
Humans have used storytelling to connect with one another and communicate ideas for millennia. It’s how our heritage was passed down before we could write. Without it, all of pre-cuneiform human history would have been lost to time.
In the world of product development, telling a great story can help engage your stakeholders and customers. But the stories you tell about your product need to be grounded in facts rather than fiction.
I think that’s why the 5 Ws is a popular framework among product managers.
Table of contents
What are the 5 Ws?
The 5 Ws originated in the journalism world. A well-reported news story should always answer the following questions:
To understand the 5 Ws framework better, let’s look at an example. Imagine you’re reporting on a robbery at a jewelry store:
- Who is involved? A 45-year-old with a history of theft
- What occurred? Attempted a robbery at a jewelry store
- When did it happen? Around lunch time on Tuesday (in broad daylight!)
- Where did it happen? Walton’s jewelry store on High Street
- Why did it happen? The perpetrator wanted a special ring in order to propose to their partner
What is 5W1H?
Many practitioners of the 5 Ws method will add an H to the equation, which stands for how. This is known as the 5W1H method.
Let’s refer back to our jewelry story robbery example. To recap:
A 45-year-old thief (who) stormed into the jewelry store (where) at lunch time (when) to commit a robbery (what).
Describing the “how” — e.g., how did it happen? — as per the 5W1H method can help you give a more complete account:
A 45-year-old thief (who), holding a banana in their pocket to appear like a gun, stormed into the jewelry store (where) at lunch time (when) to commit a robbery (what). A customer tackled the robber to the ground, which enabled police to arrive on the scene and arrest them (how).
This example demonstrates how the 5W1H method helps you paint a full picture and focus on the facts of a given situation.
Applying the 5 Ws (and 5W1H) to product management
The 5Ws and 5W1H methods help you communicate in a thorough, concise, fact-based way when talking to stakeholders about your product. You might take this approach to explain how you developed your product roadmap, for example, or why you prioritized certain backlog items over others.
To show how you can apply the 5 Ws in product management, let’s look at another example scenario:
Imagine you’re managing an e-commerce product that sells toys to children under 12. You’ve looked at your product analytics and determined that it’s time to build a new feature. You can use the 5 Ws framework to describe the problem and walk your development team through the best way to solve it:
“I’ve been reviewing the analytics on our site and I’ve found a problem I think we need to fix.
- Who is affected? Older users — likely grandparents buying gifts
- What is the problem? They’re getting stuck partway through the user journey
- When is it happening? After selecting the option to view all toys
- Where does it occur? From the homepage, which displays “View all toys” as the main call to action
- Why does it occur? My hypothesis is that these users are overwhelmed by the range of choices and hesitant to buy something age-inappropriate
Taking it a step further, per the 5W1H method, you might encourage your development team to think about how best to solve the problem.
The 5Ws and 5W1H approaches enable you to not only paint a full picture of the problem your users face, but also to engage your developers in a collaborative process that puts the user at the center of new feature development.
This is far more powerful than simply walking into a meeting and saying, “Let’s add a new filter to search” because it opens up the conversation to new ideas and promotes creative problem-solving.
Storytelling is a powerful way for product managers to build consensus on your product direction. The 5Ws and 5W1H methods can help you lay out the facts while simultaneously engaging your audience. Give it a try and see the difference in the impact you make.
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