How to Use Six Serving Men as a Problem Analysis Method

Six Serving Men is a team exercise that examines an issue from twelve different viewpoints.

Six Serving Men is a team exercise that examines an issue from twelve different viewpoints. It is based on the words of the poem by Rudyard Kipling:

I keep six honest serving men, they taught me all I knew.

Their names are What and Why and When

and How and Where and Who.

We probe the topic using these questioning words from a positive and negative perspective. The issue is defined as a question and then 12 sheets of flip chart paper are arranged around the room. On each sheet one of the 12 questions is written as the heading and the team then comes up with answers to that question. Suppose the issue is, ‘How can we improve customer service in our retail centres?’ The questions could be constructed as follows:

1. What is good customer service?

2. What is not good customer service? (Or what is bad customer service?)

3. Why do we get good customer services?

4. Why do we get bad customer service?

5. When is there good customer service?

6. When is there bad customer service?

7. How do we get good customer service?

8. How do we get bad customer service?

9. Where is there good customer service?

10. Where is there bad customer service?

11. Who gives good customer service?

12. Who gives poor customer service?

By repeatedly approaching the questions of good service and bad service and by forcing people to come up with new answers and inputs a broad picture is painted of the issue and the underlying factors. The ideas on the sheets are analyzed, prioritized and combined to give a deeper understanding of the problem and some insights as to why it is happening. These ideas then become the starting point for a plan to address the issue.

This post was previously published on Destination-Innovation and is republished here with permission from the author.

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