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Don't be afraid to ask your Product Owner "Why"

Software developers uniquely understand what's possible with software. But, we need to know the “why” to guide the business.

Jacob Orshalick
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So many conversations I hear with product owners are focused on the "how":

  • How many fields should be in this form?
  • How many screens will you need?
  • How should this button look?

Before you get into the "how", start with the "why".

Why do you need that form in the first place?

For many software teams, the conversation with a product owner gravitates around how something should work.

My son recently asked me about gravity. Kids are naturally curious and they aren't afraid to ask why.

My son: Dad, why is everything stuck to the Earth?

Me: It's gravity.

My son: Yes, but why does the earth have gravity.

Me: Well, the Earth is really big which means a lot of mass. Mass creates the gravity.

My son: Why does mass create gravity?

Me: Well, it has to do with massive objects and time bending (I’m waving my hands and he can hear in my voice I’m getting out of my comfort zone).

My son: (In my wife's tone when she knows I'm in over my head) Dad, do we need to ask ChatGPT?

I constantly find myself asking Product Owners why. As a consultant it's necessary.

You're coming into an unfamiliar business environment. You need to understand why what you're building has anything to do with their business.

I'm amazed at how often these "why" conversations with a Product Owner lead us to completely rethink system features. Lightbulb moments of insight come from conversations about "why".

Something that seemed impossible or maybe too expensive to build in the eyes of the Product Owner may not only be feasible, it may be quite simple.

As software developers we uniquely understand what's possible with software. We must use that expertise to guide the business.

So make sure you understand the business problem you're trying to solve before jumping into a solution.

So remember...

While the how is certainly important, don’t forget to ask why. Keep asking until you are sure you have a clear understanding of the business problem you are trying to solve.

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Jacob Orshalick