linkedin twitter facebook

Forward to Basics

The expression “back to basics” suggests there is an advantage to focusing on simple, fundamental ideas before getting wrapped up in new, overly complicated ones.

In today’s business world, there’s no shortage of new, refined, or re-purposed methods, practices, principles, tools, and techniques in every industry.  However, when communicating and making business decisions, it’s important not to lose touch with what’s tried-and-true.

Often, in pursuit of innovation, businesses will over-complicate solutions or get distracted by new and trendy approaches with all their accompanying promises, bells and whistles.  So, when an organization finds itself struggling to address a problem, or getting lost in a complicated approach, it’s a good idea to come back to basics – or perhaps more appropriately, forward to basics.

To Use the Basics, Remember the 5 Ws and H

No matter the size or nature of a task, when defining its requirements and determining its roadmap, it pays to start with the 5Ws and HThis is the best way to ensure that the context of the task is understood, and all its relevant requirements captured, and subsequently communicated effectively.

What are the basics? 

  • Why – defines the needs, issues or opportunities being contemplated.
  • What – identifies the functionalities, inputs, outputs, and deliverables.
  • Who – establishes the key stakeholders, including RACI parties; who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed.
  • When – sets the timelines for the outcome, including milestones, activities, and follow-ups.
  • Where – deals with the geographic and/or logistical aspects of the process.
  • How – deals with the deployment of methods, practices, tools and techniques… and comes after the 5 Ws have been answered.

The Basics in Action:  Why, What by Who, When, Where and How

To demonstrate forward to basics in action, let’s look at how managers can use the 5Ws and H to give their teams clear and unambiguous parameters around a certain task.

Active managers recognize the importance of clear communication in delegating tasks and maximizing team productivity.  Keeping the basics in mind when managing teams can make an immeasurable difference to how well a team can function.   It’s a straightforward way to ensure everyone understands what is expected of them and alleviates the need to interpret unclear instructions that inevitably leads to re-work or follow up.   

In our sample scenario, a manager is asked to track their team’s hours.  Putting the basics into action, the manager can easily and clearly communicate “why, what by who, when, where, and how”:

  • Manager is required to report to their Senior Manager the hours billed to a project by individual team members daily so that the Senior Manager can stay up to date on costs (why tasks are being done).
  • Manager creates a report to track daily hours by individual team members, ensures team members submits their hours, generates and submits the report; team members submit their hours; Senior Manager receives the report and uses the information to stay up to date (what are the tasks)
  • Manager, team members, Senior Manager (who is involved)
  • Individual hours are submitted by end of day; the report is compiled and submitted by noon next day (when do tasks occur)
  • All tasks are completed online (where do tasks occur)
  • Individual hours are input into a company intranet site, which also generates the report.  The report is submitted via email (how tasks are to be done)

The example clearly illustrates how the basics in action create a straightforward and easy to understand path to the completion of a necessary task, without any ambiguity that can lead to guessing and waste. 

Use the Basics to Move Forward in Consulting

The 5Ws and H approach is simple, effective, and proven – and should be an essential tool in every consultant’s toolbox.  Using it as guide for engagements tasks and incorporating it into your communication with your team and your clients will make you more effective as a consultant.  

Consultants have any number of new, sophisticated, and intricate tools and methodologies at their disposal, but this tried and true one will always keep you moving forward.