The W5HH Principle in Software Project Management: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 Why the W5HH?
  • 0:46 Definition of the W5HH Model
  • 2:31 The W5HH in Practice
  • 4:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

The W5HH principle in software management exists to help project managers guide objectives, timelines, responsibilities, management styles, and resources. In this lesson, we'll explore each part.

Why the W5HH?

Bonnie and her colleague, Clyde, are software project managers for the fictitious company, Software-R-Us. Bonnie works in the business side of software applications, while Clyde's work is focused on entertainment-based products. They've each been tasked with bringing a new software product to market in the third quarter of the year and, while both have smart teams, good ideas, and big plans, one project manager is more successful in developing an end product.

Clyde is more laid back and likes to lead his team loosely, tackling each item as it comes, while Bonnie follows a more detailed principle for project management, known as W5HH. Who do you think will be more successful and what exactly is W5HH anyway?

Definition of the W5HH Model

Created by software engineer Barry Boehm, the purpose behind the W5HH principle is to work through the objectives of a software project, the project timeline, team member responsibilities, management styles, and necessary resources. In an article he wrote on the topic, Boehm stated that an organizing principle is needed that works for any size project. So he developed W5HH as a guiding principle for software projects.

The W5HH principle may have a funny-sounding name, but it too is designed for practicality. The W5HH principle outlines a series of questions that can help project managers more efficiently manage software projects. Each letter in W5HH stands for a question in the series of questions to help a project manager lead. (Notice there are five ''W'' questions and two ''H'' questions).

W5HH The Question What It Means
Why? Why is the system being developed? This focuses a team on the business reasons for developing the software.
What? What will be done? This is the guiding principle in determining the tasks that need to be completed.
When? When will it be completed? This includes important milestones and the timeline for the project.
Who? Who is responsible for each function? This is where you determine which team member takes on which responsibilities. You may also identify external stakeholders with a claim in the project.
Where? Where are they organizationally located? This step gives you time to determine what other stakeholders have a role in the project and where they are found.
How? How will the job be done technically and managerially? In this step, a strategy for developing the software and managing the project is concluded upon.
How Much? How much of each resource is needed? The goal of this step is to figure out the amount of resources necessary to complete the project.

The W5HH in Practice

So let's go back to Bonnie. She is using W5HH to work through the development of a new accounting software for small businesses. Following the W5HH principles, her management plan might go something like this:

  • Why is the system being developed?

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