Home » Testing » The W5 Heuristic – Use it to define the ‘How’

The W5 Heuristic – Use it to define the ‘How’

I like to use mind maps from time to time to gather my thoughts.  The beauty of them is their simplicity. The ability to capture thoughts and ideas and display them in a visual nature instead of long winded paragraphs of words is great. They can be useful in some contexts, but certainly can be overdone and over used. Some people tend to ramble on with them. The more content and detail a map contains, the more it can lose its effectiveness.

One method I use from time to time, is to use the ‘W5 Heuristic’ to determine how I will approach work to be done. This can be done for test strategies, test design approaches, what and how to automate, defining problem statements and ideas for resolution or really anything you would like to get done.

The premise is simple. You create a map with the 5 W questions:  Why? Who? What? Where? When?

The responses and discussions should help with the ‘How’, and also in establishing action items going forward.

The following illustration is an example of one:

w5 heuristic snapshot

In this context, I was getting our testers together to help design a new testing repository for our test artifacts.  I used this method as a great way to answer some important questions. You then simply add nodes to them with information that you discuss.


I always start with ‘Why’.  If you cannot come up with good solid reasons why you want do something or see the value in it, then stop.  This is important in testing, as wasteful activities and processes have no place in our world.  Here we defined why we need a central repository.


Next is ‘Who’.  We have defined the problem statement and why we need the repository. Next I wanted to find out who would need this information. Which personas would benefit from this.  As with any testing activity, we should always think of who are the stakeholders and personas that may benefit from work that we do.


Now that we have defined the ‘Why’ and the ‘Who’, we now want to think about ‘What’ they may want to see.  This can be applied as a model in any context really.  It helps put us into the mindset of the various personas and try to deliver max value.


‘Where’, depending on the context of what it is you are mapping out, it can be simple and straightforward like this example. It was decided that a wiki was the best option, but it could certainly have morphed into many options, which would be great for discussion.


This helps establish some timelines, best guesses, priorities and anything else that may be time sensitive or where you may want to apply a deadline or timeline.

Defining all of these and having good discussions, should help in understanding of the ‘How’ you want to implement something.

So, if you are looking for a quick and simple method of trying to get answers, how to get things done, and set action items going forward, give the W5 Heuristic a shot.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s