5W2H – how to perform properly problem description

One of the important elements in solving problems is the proper implementation of its description, thanks to which it will be possible to solve it faster and this opportunity gives us 5W2H methodology application.

Quality problems solving is one of the operational activity key elements of each manufacturing plant. financial costs charged by customers for complaints and the effects of their consequences generate losses that significantly affect the financial result of organizations. In some cases, they can even determine the fate of companies. Dealing with problems effectively is in the interest of both the supplier and the customer.

One of the problem solving analysis element is 5W2H methodology. It’s a part of 8D report defined in step D2 – Problem Description.

A common mistake at this stage is to rewrite the information about the problem that we receive from the customer, such as “dashboard deformation” or “front seat noise.” This type of description does not bring any specific information that may be a point of reference for the cause analysis. That is why it is so important to gather all relevant information. Following the 5W2H methodology, we can refine the problem description.

5W2H question compositions

The name of this method comes from interrogative words beginning in English with the letters “W” and “H”. All of them are presented below:


What product is affected? What exactly is the problem (where the defect appears on the product)? What component have this problem?


Why this is a problem? What are the pre-known current causes for this type of problem? Previous analyzes of internal quality problems solving, non conformity tickets (NCT’s), FMEA analysis records and internal audits results (for example Layered Process Audits – LPA) will be useful. Are there specific standards maintained: work instructions, settings, production machines maintenance and measuring equipment?

When was the problem first observed? This is important as it gives a time period to focus on, to identify whether something has changed to cause the problem, and if so, when.

Does the defect occur immediately, or does it take time to materialize? This situation could be useful during analysis of warranty returns.

Which customer reported a problem? Do other customers receive the same products and report the same problems?

Where did the problem occur? On what machine exactly? At what machine settings? What process step detected the failure and what process steps should have detected the failure? If answer is “at the customer”, then this information may need to be requested.

What is the mechanism of this type of problem? What phenomena must occur for the problem to occur? Potential problems can arise from the machine (wear of its parts and tools).


How many units are affected? Based on data, how may units in the population are affected. This and the following question give an indication of the size of the problem

How is this problem spread across the working day? Does the problem occur randomly, on a particular shift or day.

Information on the amount of potential costs, excluding those related to safety characteristics, should be an indicator of investment opportunities for corrective actions.

Although it would seem that the description of the problem using 5W2H questions takes a lot of time, it can be seen that the answers are fundamental information needed to analyze the reasons required in point D4 of the 8D report. We will save a lot of time in the further stages of 8D report.

At the problem description stage, we will certainly not be able to answer each of these questions, but we can already plan the path to obtain this information. One of the most important sources of answers to questions is the results of selection of final product in organization and customer warehouse.

Their 100% control allows to orientate on the real scale of the problem, repeatability, size, location of the defect and the mechanism of its formation. This activity is defined as Interim Containment Actions and are placed in step D3 of 8D report.

The most common mistakes taken during 5W2H defining

There are few typical mistakes which we can meet during 5W2H. The most common are listed below:

  • Actions are based on symptoms, not a real problem.
  • Relying on premature conclusions about the root cause (avoiding “jumping into conclusions rather than focusing on the problem”).
  • Describing the problem by copying the problem definition created by the client, which is often only a symptom. This example was also mentioned at beginning of article.

It said that proper description of a problem causes its faster solution and above method is giving us this possibility. For this reason we need to remember that if we’ll spend more time on this phase of problem analysis, then it will be easier to follow root cause analysis defined in step D4 of 8D report.

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Document name: 5W2H method – Excel form

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