When I was in third grade I belonged to a little group of kids called “Kid Journalists”, in which we crafted weekly articles on Saturday morning to post them on a big canvas on a wall somewhere at my elementary school. I say “craft” because usually the images weren’t photos but pictures drawn by the journalists themselves :P.

And I learned something great. Our teacher leading the group taught us that every news article must answer six elemental questions: What?, Who? When? Where? How? & Why?. As I grew up it never ceased to amaze me that even high profile news articles or clips don’t answer all of them. I mean, is almost like a checklist isn’t it? How hard it can be?

But what’s truly even more great is that those questions can be wielded by anyone on different situations to wrap their heads around anything they want to handle effectively.

Let’s take, for a example, a job interview. The applicant has the job description and research about the company done while preparing the interview. Usually job descriptions include responsibilities, skills and qualifications and some company context. Those should cover about the job for the applicant questions What and Where, even When probably if a starting date or urgency is stated. But it would probably not cover well Who, How and Why. So reasonable questions to bring up to the interview are “Who will I work with?”, “Which methodologies, procedures and logistics are implemented to work at this job”, and more importantly, “What’s the big picture of this job?”, “Why are we doing this and how can I align my efforts to accomplish that high level goal?”.

In the other hand, the interviewer has a CV and/or a Cover letter. That should cover, about the matter of filling that job post, at least Who, What and Where, but in the interview questions When, How and Why must be addressed. So the job applicant should at least expect questions like “When can you start?”, “How do you handle conflict? pressure? delegation? peer collaboration?”, “Why do you want to work with us?”.

The key is to be able to see which things intuitively each party is trying to grasp and frame the six elemental questions for those things accordingly.

Let’s take another example. Ever been trapped in a difficult decision? That question is usually a really big “What should I do!?”. Well, let’s find it out! Difficult decisions are hard because it’s not easy to relate all things involved in the decision and weigh the trade offs involved, specially when that decision must be communicated to several parties. Let’s assume you’re handling the issue of whether to cut off a particular feature for your game or not.

What?: To cut or not to cut.
Who: In this case, who are the people involved? Your team? the publisher? external contractors? a client? Define each party involved and which goals each one of them is pursuing in this decision.
When: Do you have a ticking clock behind you? Do you have unlimited time? Does it depend on other sub decisions? Does a party have a power to frame and constrain the time for the decision?
Where: Sometimes there’s no sense of “physical place”, but there is indeed some sort of “topology” and a sense of where. Are we cutting this feature on all of our games? on all the platforms? on all the countries? on this stage of development?
How: Will it be easy to cut it off? How much do we “pay” to cut it? Will it break something else? Are there contract liabilities? How much work will each party on their different time frames will need to do?
Why: Why are we doing this? Are these reasons valid on all the times and places we can take this decision? Are all parties aware of these reasons? How do each one of them weigh in all the reasons?

For any particular example, some questions will be covered quickly and other will be the tough ones. But almost all the time, difficult decisions are different people, looking for different things, with different times, at different places with different methods and with different purposes. So with the Six Elemental Questions™ you just can find out about all of those and be fully aware of What to do!.