What is How-How

Guide: How-How Diagrams

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Author: Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is an experienced continuous improvement manager with a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a Bachelor's degree in Business Management. With more than ten years of experience applying his skills across various industries, Daniel specializes in optimizing processes and improving efficiency. His approach combines practical experience with a deep understanding of business fundamentals to drive meaningful change.

Guide: How-How Diagrams

How-How Diagrams are strategic tools that can be used in a wide range of situations. Unlike traditional problem-solving tools that focus on the ‘why’ such as the 5 Whys, these diagrams pivot attention from why something happened, to the ‘how’, pivoting from abstract reasoning to concrete action.

This change in perspective is useful for moving towards practical solutions. The structure of How-How Diagrams encourages a deep understanding into various methods and strategies, creating an environment of creativity and innovation. By considering multiple ‘hows’, it opens up avenues to unconventional and potentially more effective methods of achieving specific objectives or resolving issues.

What is a How-How Diagram

A How-How Diagram is a simple tool that can be used in a wide range of scenarios. It is used to generate multiple ideas that can solve a specific problem. The Diagram is used to provide a useful structure for organising the possible ideas and solutions in one place. Similarly to the 5 Whys, it works by repeatedly asking “How do we solve this?” until you can no longer ask the question of How. Using the How-How diagram you can get multiple answers to solve one problem and therefore be able to display the results in a hierarchical format. 

Take the below example of a situation where a team is looking to reduce defects in product assembly. They ask how can we solve this? and come up with two key focus areas, “enhance quality control measures” and “Improve work training”. These two Hows are then broken down into further actions of how this can be solved which can address the original issue.

How-How Diagram Example

The structure of a How-How Diagram facilitates a deep dive into the various methods and strategies that could be employed to achieve a specific objective or resolve a particular issue. This approach is inherently creative, as it pushes individuals and teams to think beyond standard or obvious solutions. By considering multiple ‘hows’, it becomes possible to uncover innovative and sometimes unconventional methods that might be more effective.

Why Use the How-How Diagram

The core purpose of How-How Diagrams is to decompose a larger goal or problem into smaller, more manageable components. This breakdown is crucial for several reasons:

  1. Simplification of Complex Problems: Large goals or complex problems can often seem daunting and insurmountable. By breaking these down into smaller parts, they become less intimidating and more manageable. This simplification aids in understanding the problem or goal more thoroughly.

  2. Encouraging a Broad Range of Solutions: When faced with a challenge, there’s a natural tendency to latch onto the first solution that comes to mind. How-How Diagrams counter this by encouraging the exploration of multiple solutions at each level of the problem. This exploration can be particularly valuable in situations where conventional approaches have been unsuccessful, or the path to the goal is unclear.

  3. Facilitating Creative Thinking: The process of continually asking ‘how’ can lead to innovative thinking. It forces individuals and teams to consider different angles and perspectives, often leading to creative solutions that might not have been considered in a more traditional, linear problem-solving process.

  4. Adaptability to Various Contexts: Whether it’s in strategic planning, where the goal is to chart a course for future growth, or in process improvement, where the focus is on enhancing efficiency or effectiveness, the adaptable nature of How-How Diagrams makes them a valuable tool across different contexts.

The Process of Creating How-How Diagram

Creating a How-How Diagram is a structured yet creative process that involves a series of steps to break down a goal or problem into actionable strategies. Here, we’ll delve into each step in detail to understand how this tool can be effectively utilized.

Step 1: Identifying the Goal or Problem

The first step is fundamental to the entire process. The goal or problem needs to be identified with clarity and precision. This is not just about stating the goal or problem; it’s about understanding its nuances and ensuring that it is specific and actionable. A well-defined goal or problem statement sets the stage for effective brainstorming later in the process. It should be concise yet descriptive enough to encapsulate the key challenge or objective at hand.

Step 2: Develop the First Level of Hows

Once the goal or problem is clearly outlined, the next step involves brainstorming the first level of ‘hows’. This is where you start to think about broad strategies or general methods to achieve the goal or solve the problem. These ‘hows’ are not about detailed actions or specific tasks yet. Instead, they represent overarching approaches or methodologies.

For instance, if the goal is to increase market share, the first level of ‘hows’ might include strategies like ‘improve product quality’, ‘expand marketing reach’, or ‘enhance customer service’. It’s important at this stage to encourage open and creative thinking, as this lays the groundwork for more detailed strategies later.

Step 3: Expand to Further Levels

This step is where the diagram starts to gain depth. For each ‘how’ identified in the first level, you ask again, “How can this be achieved?” This question leads to a second level of more specific strategies or actions. For example, if one of the first-level ‘hows’ is ‘improve product quality’, the second level might include ‘invest in research and development’, ‘gather customer feedback’, or ‘upgrade manufacturing processes’.

This process of asking ‘how’ is repeated, creating multiple levels, each more specific than the last, until you reach practical, actionable steps. This expansion is critical as it transforms broad strategies into tangible actions that can be implemented.

Step 4: Analyze and Priortize

With the diagram now expanded, it’s time to analyze and prioritize the various paths identified. This step is crucial for turning the theoretical exercise into practical strategies. It involves evaluating each path in terms of feasibility, effectiveness, resources required, potential impact, and alignment with overall objectives.

Some paths will naturally stand out as being more viable or promising than others. These should be prioritized for further exploration or implementation. This prioritization helps in focusing efforts and resources on the most impactful strategies.

Practical Applications of How-How Diagrams

How-How Diagrams are not just theoretical tools; they have practical applications in various fields, such as problem-solving, strategic planning, and process improvement. Each of these applications utilizes the fundamental principle of the How-How Diagram – breaking down a larger issue into manageable parts and exploring multiple pathways to achieve a goal or solve a problem.


In problem-solving, How-How Diagrams are particularly valuable. They provide a structured yet flexible approach to tackling challenges, encouraging a comprehensive exploration of potential solutions. This is how they work in this context:

  1. Diverse Perspectives: By continuously asking ‘how’ a problem can be solved, these diagrams push individuals and teams to consider multiple perspectives. This broadens the scope of potential solutions, moving beyond the first or most obvious answer.

  2. Innovative Solutions: This exploration can lead to innovative and creative solutions. Often, the best solution to a problem isn’t the most straightforward or conventional one. By encouraging a deeper dive into various strategies, How-How Diagrams can uncover unique approaches.

  3. Breaking Down Complex Problems: Complex problems can seem overwhelming. The diagram helps in breaking these down into smaller, more manageable components, making it easier to tackle each part systematically.

Strategic Planning

In strategic planning, How-How Diagrams serve as a tool for laying out the path to long-term goals. Here’s how they are applied:

  1. Clarifying Strategies: They help in clarifying and detailing the strategies needed to achieve long-term objectives. By mapping out different ‘hows’, organizations can see a step-by-step breakdown of what needs to be done.

  2. Uncovering Hidden Paths: Sometimes, the best strategy isn’t the most obvious one. How-How Diagrams can reveal less obvious paths that might be more effective or efficient.

  3. Aligning Teams: These diagrams can also serve as a communication tool, helping to align teams and stakeholders around a shared understanding of the strategies and actions needed to reach long-term goals.

Process Improvement

In process improvement, How-How Diagrams are particularly powerful. They assist in:

  1. Identifying Improvement Areas: By breaking down a process into various steps and exploring different ‘hows’ for each step, these diagrams help in identifying potential areas for improvement.

  2. Encouraging a Thorough Examination: They encourage a thorough examination of each step in a process, which can lead to identifying inefficiencies or bottlenecks.

  3. Exploring Multiple Solutions: For any identified issue, the diagram can explore multiple solutions, providing a range of options to improve the process.


How-How Diagrams are much more than theoretical constructs; they have significant practical applications in problem-solving, strategic planning, and process improvement. Their fundamental principle lies in dissecting larger issues into manageable parts and exploring diverse pathways to attain goals or resolve problems.

These diagrams advocate for a structured yet adaptable approach, prompting individuals and teams to consider multiple perspectives and innovative solutions. Whether it’s in breaking down complex problems, clarifying strategic plans, or identifying areas for process improvement, How-How Diagrams serve as a powerful tool, enabling a comprehensive and thorough exploration of potential solutions and strategies across various contexts.


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A: A How-How Diagram is a strategic tool used for problem-solving and planning. It focuses on exploring different ways (‘hows’) to achieve a specific goal or solve a problem. Unlike traditional tools that often ask ‘why’, How-How Diagrams concentrate on finding actionable methods and strategies, encouraging innovative thinking and identifying multiple potential solutions.

A: Yes, How-How Diagrams are versatile and can be applied across various industries and sectors. They are particularly useful in situations that require strategic planning, problem-solving, or process improvement. Their adaptability allows them to be tailored to the specific needs and challenges of different fields, from business to education, healthcare, and more.

A: Prioritizing paths in a How-How Diagram involves evaluating each option based on feasibility, effectiveness, resource requirements, potential impact, and alignment with overall objectives. It’s important to identify which strategies are more viable and promising, focusing efforts on those that offer the greatest potential benefits or efficiencies.

A: How-How Diagrams are effective in both individual and team settings. While they can facilitate collaborative brainstorming and align teams around shared goals in group environments, they are also valuable for individual problem-solving and strategic planning, helping to organize thoughts and explore various solutions systematically.

A: The key difference of How-How Diagrams lies in their focus on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’. This approach directs attention towards actionable methods and strategies for achieving goals or solving problems. Additionally, their structure promotes the exploration of multiple solutions at different levels, encouraging creative thinking and the discovery of unconventional solutions that might not emerge from more traditional, linear problem-solving processes.


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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 www.learnleansigma.com, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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