Jake Worth

Jake Worth

Product Hack: Asking 'What's the Why?'

Published: October 30, 2023 • Updated: January 29, 2024 2 min read

  • product

One of my favorite product hacks is asking: “What’s the why?”

Before delivering a feature, stop and ask: why is this feature worth adding? Why is it worth the time for your teammates to review, for your stakeholders to approve, and for your users to adjust to? What are we getting from adding it, that’s better than anything else we could be building?

It’s a shift to ownership. Here’s non-ownership: “Every app has a logout feature.” And ownership: “Our customers must be able to log out because we display sensitive information.” Non-ownership: “Our competitors’ apps send push notifications.” Ownership: “We can connect better with our customers throughout the purchasing process with push notifications.”

This applies to internal work, too. Before pitching a process to your team, stop and ask why you want to do it. When adding an auto-formatting tool: “Formatting churn in pull requests is distracting us from the changes.” When proposing monthly retrospectives: “We’re repeating the same mistakes again and again.” Adding continuous integration: “People don’t know they’re breaking the tests until their code is merged.”

Defining your ‘why’ has many benefits. It will:

  • Help you prioritize high-value ideas
  • Make you a fighter for your idea because you can justify it from your own first principles
  • Get others on your side
  • Preemptively dismiss resistance

I have codified this into my pull request template to make it impossible to forget. When I open a pull request, I make myself explain why this is worthy change. When people see it, I want them to be able to say to themselves something like: “Letting customer service agents impersonate customers with a bug… that’s going to reduce the time it takes to help customers.”

For work that was assigned to you, I promise that there’s a ‘why’ there. Managers may not always think to share that information, but they are aware of it. It’s empowering to be able to find it yourself.

What are your thoughts on asking why? Let me know!

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