How to use the 5w2h Method to Get Things Done

Have you ever had a plan of action that somehow turns into a plan for inaction? Or perhaps you’ve been to a meeting and received pages of minutes that don’t seem to have anything to do with real results. You start wondering why you ever went to that meeting in the first place! The 5w2h Method is a great way of making sure everyone’s on the same page and getting things done on schedule. It’s also a great guideline for effective meeting minutes that actually mean something!

Use it to implement new ideas, as a business process improvement and problem-solving tool, or even as a format that keeps meetings efficient and productive. By the way, 5w2h was developed for business process improvement, but it’s also a great way to record and plan any series of actions.

Turning Ideas Into Action With the 5w2h Method

Without action, ideas don’t serve any useful purpose. Whether you’re brainstorming a new course of action on your own or with a team, the 5w2h method is a great tool for getting things going.

Set up a table with seven columns or else create a list with subheadings. Answer these questions, and you’re well on your way to an action plan that works!

It’s simple, right? Well, perhaps it’s not as simple as it seems on the surface.

Break Down the Tasks to be Completed for a Single Result

If you’re launching a marketing campaign for a new product, “Launch New Product, Because I want to sell it, in Texas, by the 23rd of August, I’ll do it, Properly, for $1,000” isn’t going to be very helpful even though it answers all the questions we’ve listed.

Your task will likely consist of a great many action steps that all have to work together before you get the results or the process improvements you want.  And since you need your team to be coordinated, with one picking up the ball as soon as the last player has done his or her share, those tasks need to be well-orchestrated.

The What, Why and Who of Things

The steps you decide on will fill the “What” column while the reasons they need to be done fill the “Why” column. Make a single person (or “Who”) responsible for the completion of each action even when whole teams will be involved. That makes accountability clear and makes it hard to shift blame if a task isn’t completed on time. And the time-bound element or “When” is important if you want to avoid procrastination and ad-hoc down-prioritizing!

To make responsibility-assignment for any sort of project, you might also want to try giving the RACI matrix a shot.

Wheres, Hows, and Budgets

Decide for yourself whether you need the “Where” column. It could come in very handy if you’re working across several geographical locations, but if you’re working from a single one, it may be less useful. However, do remember that it can be used to indicate preferred supplier names or places where your team will store information.

“How” might also be a field that you leave blank at times. After all, you’ve presumably hired people who know how to do their jobs and there’s no real point in micromanaging or stating the obvious. Nevertheless, it does make a good place to indicate any methods you specifically want to be followed or to list the standards you want your team to adhere to.

The budget or “How much” column may also be left open at times. For example, if Johnny is going to bring you a report, the cost of doing so is of less interest than it would be if he were spending $10,000 on new stock!

How to Use 5w2h in Business Meetings

Meetings shouldn’t just be talk shops. Ultimately, all that matters are actions to be carried out, feedback on previous actions completed, and decisions made. It’s worth remembering this if you’re chairing, and using the 5w2h method to record actions to be taken is just perfect.

When scanning through minutes, delegates will know what they must progress with and give feedback on by the next meeting without having to wade through pages of blurb first.

Feedback on previous actions can be noted for the benefit of anyone who was unable to attend, but the next steps are the real “meat,” so keep them at the top of the document. Finally, decisions will usually result in some form of action, but it’s still worth recording them as decisions under a separate subheading. This allows you to review decisions for consistency every so often.

Making 5w2h Work for You

Just making a great plan isn’t the same as sticking to it. If you want your carefully-formulated 5w2h plan to be worth more than the paper its written on, follow-up is important. This may or may not call for a meeting, but whether it does or not, you need to fix a date for review.

Project management software like Tallyfy can make this a lot easier and save you and your team a lot of time in the meeting room. In fact, you can dispense with the 5w2h document altogether by capturing the same elements in the form of a process flow. That eliminates the “I forgot” excuses on the part of your team because they’ll receive a notification on the start date. It also means that you can pick up on areas that are going off schedule on an ongoing basis instead of waiting for the next meeting or review.

Whichever method you choose, ongoing or fixed period reporting, you do need to follow up. After all, even the best-laid plans often need a little adjusting. And if everything is going according to plan, you can have the satisfaction of knowing that it’s all coming together.

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