Why-How Charting

Why-How charting is a means of thoroughly exploring the logic of how an entity works, and why it does what it is endeavouring to do. The entity can be a team, a project, even an entire organisation.

The process of why-how charting is relatively simple. We will illustrate how it works by looking at how you might do it for a particular team. It starts by sticking up (usually on a sticky note) a current core activity of the team. 

The question is then asked “Why do we do this – what purpose does it fulfil?” and the answer(s) to this question are phrased as objective(s) for the team’s work, and placed as sticky notes above the activity. 

The question is then asked for each of the new sticky notes, “Why is this our objective?” and the answer(s) to this question are phrased as further objective(s) and placed as sticky notes above the first. The sticky notes are then linked by arrows coming out from the first stick note and into the new ones.

The same question is then asked of these new objectives, and the process continues. At appropriate points other current objectives are introduced into the process, and are linked as before – but in this case the links may be made to existing sticky notes.

At the end of the process there is normally a clear ‘over-arching objective’ into which all other objectives are linked. The arrows represent the why-how nature of the chart – their heads indicate why an objective exists, and their tails represent how an objective is to be achieved.

The process is rarely straight forward, and often requires a number of redraws, as new insights are gained. It is best undertaken by the group, and will take as long as is required for the group to reach agreement on the rationale for the objectives.

At the end of the process the team will have begun to understand the relative importance of the objectives they focus on with regard to their colleagues’ objectives, and will have built a better basis for reconciling differences in their objectives.

Why-how charting helps build teamwork by defining and agreeing collective higher level objectives which individuals can see are more important than their individual goals.

The process can be time consuming (half an hour at best, and over ten hours in our worst session to date) depending on existing levels of communication and teamwork, but it is inevitably cheaper than the cost of time spent in friction and inefficiency where such understanding is confused and political.

A step-by-step guide to producing a Why-How chart can be found in Chapter 1 of How To Build A Better Business, which can be read as a pdf file on-line.

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