Using the “Five Whys” Method to Discover Your Content Needs

The method of “Five Whys” takes its name from the investigative approach of asking “Why?” five times to understand the root of the problem.

The answer on the first “why” will prompt another “why” and so on until you get to the real problem. By repeating “why” five times, you can gradually move from a general definition of the problem to its real cause. This method is used, for example, at Toyota to uncover issues that occur during the production and fix the root of the problem.

But you can also use the same method to discover your content needs. For example, “Five Whys” can help you write scenarios for identifying your requirements to a content management system which we discussed in the previous post.

Let’s say we realize a general need in a content management system, but need to go down to an actual problem. The correct identification of the problem is important because this will determine what requirements a content management system should meet. Our “Five Whys” could look something like this:

“We need a content management system.”
“Why?”
“Because we need to track where each piece of content is reused.”
“Why?”
“Because we need to understand how updating each piece of content affects all deliverables in which the content appears.”
“Why?”
“Because in some deliverables, we might want to have the updated content, but in some documents, we might want to stay with the previous version.”
“Why?”
“Because some of our customers are still getting the older version of the product, and for this type of customers the new information might not be relevant.”
“Why?”
“Because we are maintaining several releases of the same product in parallel, and each release might be updated independently on other releases even after it’s delivered to customers.”

In this example, we gradually moved from a general statement “we need a content management system” to a business case that causes the need in a content management system – the need to maintain parallel product releases. Now we know that a content management system should support a scenario where:
(1) different versions of the content have to be stored
(2) you should have the ability to continue developing each version independently (possibly through branching or another similar mechanism)
(3) when the content is updated, you should have a control over how the change is propagated to the documents in which the content appears
(4) when you assemble a new document, probably you might want to choose which version of the content you want to include into this document

This gives you a good basis for writing a scenario that describes the process in detail and explains various options that can happen. When you have a set of such scenarios, you are in a good shape for starting to evaluate how different content management systems support your scenarios. Which means that your chances to choose a CMS that solves your needs are pretty high!

One Thought on “Using the “Five Whys” Method to Discover Your Content Needs

  1. Interesting use of the five whys. It is a very flexible approach. If asking and answering the questions yourself this can lead to a ‘desired result’ rather than a truthful one. The major flaw with this process is the question poser and the answerer are huge variables. That is to say that if you change the people but keep the other data the same the outcome can be different.
    The Problem Manager

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