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Using the 5W-1H Method for Software Business Analysis

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Have you ever dealt with unclear features during the software development process? Have you ever found out that you were solving the wrong problem in the middle of the analysis stage? Are your stakeholders often unaligned on a certain feature? If the answer to those questions is “Yes”, then the 5W-1H method is going to save you a lot of trouble by providing a structured approach to unraveling complexities, aligning perspectives, and ensuring clarity throughout the software development lifecycle.

In this article, we will delve into the practical application of the 5W-1H method in software business analysis. We will explore how this structured approach can help teams navigate common challenges such as unclear features, misaligned priorities, and incorrect problem identification.

What is the 5W-1H method?

The 5W-1H method (also known as the Kipling method) is a diagram that helps software development (but not only) teams in understanding business situations and problems. Its effectiveness is derived from its simplicity – the diagram represents a structured approach to gathering and analyzing key information. Its main purpose is to help Business Analysts and Product Owners gain important business and technical context on a certain topic or problem. The diagram is then used to let the upper management make better decisions. The 5W-1H is widely used because it provides thorough examination of a business problem from all sides. It is important to note that the 5W-1H method is not a panacea for the organization, it is a powerful instrument that stimulates team collaboration, enforces brainstorming, and sets up a clearer business context in the solution development landscape.

Main components of the 5W-1H method

Now, let’s take a closer look at the components of the 5W-1H method. It helps us understand why certain things happen in business situations. It’s the first piece of the puzzle in our journey to better decision-making and problem-solving, covering ‘who,’ ‘what,’ ‘where,’ ‘when,’ ‘why,’ and ‘how.’

Why: Uncovering Causes and Motivations

It all starts with the “Why” as it explores the causes and motivations behind a business situation. This aspect analyzes the root causes of problems, provides insights, and enhances decision making. By narrowing down the “Why”, teams can prevent the recurrence of issues by addressing them early.

For instance, why do users need a real-time messaging feature? By delving into the motivations behind this requirement, teams may discover that users need instant communication to enhance collaboration and productivity, thus guiding the development process to prioritize this feature.

What: Determining Core Components

By defining the “What”, the team will successfully determine the core components of the business problem. After that, business analysts can gain deep insights into the scope of the issue and think of relevant solutions.

Consider a scenario where a software application frequently crashes during peak usage times. Defining the “What” involves identifying the core components contributing to these crashes, such as inefficient memory management or a bottleneck in database queries. By determining these core issues, developers can focus on optimizing these specific areas to improve the overall stability and performance of the application.

Who: Identifying Key Stakeholders

The “Who” component is focused on identifying the key stakeholders involved in a particular business situation. The team can then build a stakeholder matrix (using the RACI model) to assess potential influencers of the solution.

In a business enterprise planning project, identifying the “Who” involves recognizing the key stakeholders impacted by the implementation of new ERP software. This includes department heads, IT personnel, end-users, and executives. By understanding the roles and interests of each stakeholder, project managers can effectively communicate with and involve them in the decision-making process, ensuring smooth adoption and implementation of the ERP system.

Where: Analyzing Contextual Nuances

In a business context, the “Where” may indicate where a problem occurs (as in a step of a process). In a technical context, “where” can refer to the specific services where crashes occur. Analyzing the “Where” adds a layer of context that is often crucial in understanding the nuances of a problem.

For instance, if users frequently encounter login issues, the “Where” could refer to the specific steps or modules within the login process where failures occur. Understanding these contextual nuances enables developers to focus their troubleshooting efforts on the relevant areas, speeding up resolution times and improving user experience.

When: Assessing Time-related Factors

The “When” aspect of the 5W’s helps teams and analysts determine the sequence of activities, both business and technical, and assess the impact of time-related factors as it is vital for making informed decisions.

Suppose a company is planning to roll out a new feature for its e-commerce platform. Assessing the “When” involves determining the optimal time for deployment to minimize disruption to ongoing business operations and maximize customer engagement. Factors such as peak shopping seasons, development timelines, and marketing campaigns all influence the decision on when to release the feature, ensuring it aligns with business objectives and user expectations.

How: Crafting Action Plans

The final component of the 5W-1H diagram is the “How”. Understanding the “How” is fundamental for creating action plans and thus – delivering value. It could include the blueprint for implementation of new strategies, enhancing old ones, creating business or technical processes, or modifying them, etc.

In the context of software development, understanding the “How” may involve devising a strategy for implementing a new authentication system. This could include defining the necessary development tasks, allocating resources, establishing testing protocols, and coordinating with stakeholders for feedback and approval.

Practical Tips for Applying the 5W-1H Method

The 5W-1H method is highly effective in situations with a great degree of uncertainty, just like the Feature Analysis stage of the software development process. By discussing the key components of the method, key insights and action plans are likely to emerge.

business analysis in a software development planning meeting

Throughout the years, I have relied countless times on the method to gather more business and technical context around a solution that is yet to be delivered or must be modified. I have successfully used this method during the analysis phase in a application development environments, as well as during the implementation and support of complex enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. As I have previously mentioned, this diagram (which is the result of the application of the 5W-1H method) will not suddenly make your business context problems disappear. However, you can leverage the outcome of the sessions dedicated to this method. For example, use the outcome as a solid base and starting point to build context upon, and so can you.

Filling the 5W-1H Diagram

There is no predefined way on how to conduct sessions that are dedicated to eliciting information to fill the 5W-1H diagram. It really depends on the participants, context, and the environment. A sample blueprint for discussion to get you started in a 5W-1H session can look like this:

Analyzing the “Why”:

  • Figure out what the user needs are, understand why the feature is necessary and what issues it is addressing. Narrow down the current user problems and pain points.
  • Focus on understanding the real need of the users/stakeholders, not on the solution itself.
  • Align the collaboration feature with broader team, project, or enterprise goals.

Discussing the “Who”:

  • Identify the key users (stakeholders). They could be project managers, team members and SME’s who will utilize the collaboration feature. Prepare a stakeholder matrix.
  • Consider external parties, such as end users (clients) who are impacted by the feature.
  • Narrow down the development or engineering team responsible for developing, implementing, and maintaining the feature.

Examining the “What”:

  • Define the collaboration feature by defining the problem itself.
  • Point out the added value for the user. Understand how the feature enhances their experience and how the current problem affects it.
  • Outline the technology requirements to a high level. Consider potential development or integration efforts.

Figuring Out the “When”:

  • Define a timeline for the development & analysis activities.
  • Outline a release schedule, consider the possibility of delivering a feature in phases.
  • Consider internal & external factors – free capacity, current delivery sequence, legal & compliance obligations, etc.

Considering the “Where”:

  • Identify where the problem occurs (in a business and in a technical context).
  • Figure out where the solution can be integrated (i.e., specific locations in the user interface).
  • Examine dependencies within systems.

Evaluating the “How”:

  • Point out how the feature will be developed and integrated.
  • Describe potential user journeys.
  • Create draft UML diagrams for the processes.
  • Outline testing efforts and methods, identify initial test case scenarios.

Where Can You Find the 5W-1H Templates?

Implementing the 5W-1H method is quick, simple, and free. It requires no previous experience, and the teams get better with every diagram. You can modify it to accommodate your needs and get the most out of it, just set up the template and start writing. You can find the templates on various sources, such as Microsoft Whiteboard (where it is a prebuilt template), Miro and Creately.


In the context of software and solution development, the 5W-1H method—focusing on “Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” “Why,” and “How”—serves as a framework for guiding the solution analysis & development processes. By exploring these questions, software development teams gain a solid understanding of user needs, project objectives, operational environments, timelines, underlying motivations, and implementation strategies. This structured approach ensures that solutions are user-centric, technically viable, and strategically aligned with business goals. Using the 5W-1H method in software development enhances clarity, fosters innovation, and drives the creation of effective, impactful solutions.

Accedia is an EU-based IT company headquartered in Sofia, Bulgaria, specializing in technology consulting and software development. Founded in 2012, the company has since gained recognition for its rapid expansion and service excellence by the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals, Deloitte, and the Financial Times. The company offers services in application development, data analytics, cloud computing, AI and ML, and cybersecurity. Accedia’s commitment to innovation and excellence serves clients in over 20 countries, continually pushing the boundaries of IT to empower businesses worldwide.

Yordan is a Business Analyst at Accedia specializing in software business analysis that drives organizational & operational efficiency and innovation.


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