How To Use Six Serving Men As a Problem Analysis Method

How To Use Six Serving Men As a Problem Analysis Method

Paul Sloane 21/05/2023
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.

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.

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Paul Sloane

Innovation Expert

Paul is a professional keynote conference speaker and expert facilitator on innovation and lateral thinking. He helps companies improve idea generation and creative leadership. His workshops transform innovation leadership skills and generate great ideas for business issues. His recent clients include Airbus, Microsoft, Unilever, Nike, Novartis and Swarovski. He has published 30 books on lateral thinking puzzles, innovation, leadership and problem solving (with over 2 million copies sold). He also acts as link presenter at conferences and facilitator at high level meetings such as a corporate advisory board. He has acted as host or MC at Awards Dinners. Previously, he was CEO of Monactive, VP International of MathSoft and UK MD of Ashton-Tate. He recently launched a series of podcast interviews entitled Insights from Successful People.

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