What is 5W1H Problem Definition

Guide: 5W1H Is/Is Not Problem Definition

Being effective at solving problems can often be difficult particularly when you dont know where to start. This is where the 5W1H Is/Is Not technique is useful. This technique uses six basic questions (5W) Who, What, Where, When, Why, and (1H) How to help you really understand a problem before diving into solving it. This used along side the Is/Is not Problem definition method further helps create a strong understanding what is in scope of the problem and what is not in scope.

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What is 5W1H Is/Is Not Problem Definition?

The 5W1H Is/Is Not Problem Definition is a structured approach to problem-solving that aims to provide a clear understanding of a particular issue by exploring the issues from all angle. The acronym stands for “Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.” In this method, you ask these questions to understand the boundaries of the problem for example:

  • Who: Who is affected by the problem? Who are the stakeholders?
  • What: What is the issue? What is not the issue?
  • Where: Where is the problem occurring? Where is it not occurring?
  • When: When does the problem happen? When does it not happen?
  • Why: Why is this a problem? Why might it have occurred?
  • How: How does the problem manifest? How can it be solved?

By asking “Is” and “Is Not” for each of these categories, you’re setting the scope of the problem, making it easier to focus on what needs to be addressed. This method is particularly useful for complex issues where multiple factors could be at play.

Below is an example of a simple completed 5Wh1H Is/Is not table.

Question Is Is Not
Who Production team Marketing team, Sales team
What Faulty widgets from Machine A Faulty widgets from Machine B, C
Where Production Line 1 Production Line 2, Warehouse
When During the second shift First shift, Weekends
Why Calibration issue in Machine A Operator error, Supply issues
How Incorrect settings Machine wear and tear

Why is 5W1H Is/Is Not Problem Definition Important?

While the method used to create a problem definition may not be important, the creation of an effective problem definition is to ensure you have the focus on the correct problem as it is easy to have the focus go beyond the scope. Using 5W1H and Is/Is not is a useful tool for achieving this and can provide multiple benefits such as:

  • Proving Clarity: A well defined problem statement using 5W1H helps in clearly defining the problem, eliminating any ambiguity. This is critical for stakeholders to gain a clear understanding.

  • Setting the Scope: By asking ‘Is Not’ questions, the method helps in setting the boundaries, ensuring that the team does not stray into unrelated issues, thereby conserving resources. One of the biggest risks to projects is scope creep leading to the project scope being too vast to address effectively.

  • Root Cause Analysis: The ‘Why’ and ‘How’ questions are particularly useful for understanding the problem and provide a useful first step in getting to the root cause of the problem.

  • Stakeholder Involvement: By identifying ‘Who’ is affected, you can ensure you involve the right people in the problem-solving process.

How to Use 5W1H Is/Is Not Problem Definition

Step 1: Create Your Team

Get everyone who is impacted by or involved in solving the problem to be part of the team this can be those that work for the company as well as suppliers and customers where necessary to ensure a all angles are covered.

Step 2: Start with ‘What’

Using a 5W1H Is/Is Not template start with the first question of “What” and explain What the problem IS and what the problem IS Not and ensure that all the stakeholders agree before moving on to the next questions.

Step 3: Go Through Each Question

Now go through each of the remaining questions carefully answering the Is and the Is not for each.

For example:

  • Who: The production team
  • What: Faulty widgets from Machine A
  • Where: Production Line 1
  • When: During the second shift
  • Why: Calibration issue in Machine A
  • How: Incorrect settings

Also, note down what each aspect is not. This sets boundaries.

Step 4: Review and Refine

Once you’ve answered all the questions, review them. Make sure they are specific and agreed upon by everyone. If they are not specific and agreed they should be reviewed and clarified by the team to ensure everyone is on the same page when moving forward with the project or solving the problem.

Step 5: Take Action

Now that you’ve clearly defined the problem, it’s time to solve it. Since you’ve also asked ‘How’ and ‘Why,’ you probably have some ideas for solutions.

For techniques around addressing problems can consult our comprehensive list of guides.


In Conclusion, the 5W1H Is/Is Not template is a useful tool for delving into a topic and gaining a better understanding of it. You can create a clear understanding of a topic and identify any misconceptions or areas of confusion by asking and answering the six questions. You can also clarify any misunderstandings and distinguish your topic from similar topics by addressing the “Is Not” section of the template.


A: The 5W1H Is/Is Not problem definition is a technique used to clearly define a problem by answering six fundamental questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.

A: The 5W1H Is/Is Not problem definition helps to eliminate ambiguity and ensure a thorough understanding of the problem at hand. It provides a structured approach to defining problems, which aids in effective problem-solving and decision-making.

A: The technique involves asking a series of questions: Who is involved? What is the problem? When does the problem occur? Where does it happen? Why is it happening? And how is it happening? Additionally, answering the corresponding “Is Not” questions helps to set boundaries and clarify what the problem is not.


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Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is a seasoned continuous improvement manager with a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. With over 10 years of real-world application experience across diverse sectors, Daniel has a passion for optimizing processes and fostering a culture of efficiency. He's not just a practitioner but also an avid learner, constantly seeking to expand his knowledge. Outside of his professional life, Daniel has a keen Investing, statistics and knowledge-sharing, which led him to create the website learnleansigma.com, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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