2008-06-05

Always find out the "real question"

Our job as software developers is not only to code, but more importantly to solve problems. Many times we get people who come to ask us to add feature A or B to an application to make it more productive, which is reasonable. There are other times however when we must dig a little further when someone is asking for a new feature, to really know if it is the right solution. My favorite way of doing this is by responding to their question by saying "What is your real question?". Don't just settle for "can you add this other button", or "can you make this faster", but figure out what the end-user is really doing, what he/she is looking to accomplish, what daily task needs to be completed. Because the feature they are asking for, might in fact not be the real solution to their problem.

Best example of this came a couple weeks ago when someone ask me to improve the performance of a report system. Upon learning the details I saw that what the user was doing was running queries the report engine wasn't build for. And upon further questioning, I figured out that all they needed was to enter a record identifier to retrieve all associated records and display them in a grid. Now doing that, is must simpler and faster than trying to re-write a reporting engine to deal with a specific use case.

So remember, don't just do what people say, ask questions, find out what the real need is, what the end goal is and if needed, go sit next to the end user and observer for while, you will be enlightened.

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