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Why before how
August 7th, 2012 by Joca

This weekend I was at QCon São Paulo, a great conference made by developers for developers.

In this conference I talked about “Guia da Startup” (Startup Guide), a blog (in Portuguese) that became a book (also in Portuguese) about product management lessons for web startups and for non-startups with web projects. I have plans to translate the content of this book to English and post it here.

Martin Fowler (@martinfowler) from ThoughtWorks gave the first keynote. At a certain point he used an interesting quote to introduce the topic of good design and technical debt.

I commonly come across developers who are frustrated because “management want more features, they don’t care about quality”

The quote got my attention specially because as a developer talking to developers in a developer conference, Martin focused on the part of the quote that normally drives the attention of all developers, the “how” part. He focused on the “quality” word to explain how important it is to have good design to avoid technical debt so developers can add more features more easily. As I’m more focused on the product management side of software development, as soon as I read the quote, I focused on the “why” part. This motivated me to create a new slide in my presentation about product management practices:

When I heard the quote, my focus was directed directly to the word “features” and my first reaction was asking “Why is this feature being requested?”

When we are asked to implement a feature in a software, the natural reaction is to think how this feature will be implemented. However, we need to give a step back and understand what we are trying to achieve implementing this feature. What value this feature brings to the software users? What value this feature brings to the software owners? Every new feature, no matter how small it is and how simple it is to implement, creates complexity in our code. What’s the value we expect out of this additional complexity? This is a question that not only a product manager should ask, but every developer who is asked to implement a feature should ask.

So my recommendation to every developer who’s asked to implement a feature is, before rushing to figure out “how” a feature should be implemented, question “why” this feature is being asked. This will help you understand the importance of the feature and help who’s asking the feature to reassure the motivation behind this feature.

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