The power of "Why" in problem-solving

As software developers, we often jump straight into solving problems with code. But sometimes, the best solution isn’t about how to code something - it’s about questioning why we’re coding it in the first place.

The 5 Whys technique

The 5 Whys

One powerful technique I’ve found invaluable is the “5 Whys” method. Originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda for Toyota, this approach involves asking “Why?” repeatedly to dig deeper into the root cause of a problem.

Here’s how it works in software development:

  1. Start with the problem statement.
  2. Ask “Why is this a problem?”
  3. Take the answer and ask “Why?” again.
  4. Repeat at least 5 times or until you reach the core issue.

This process often reveals that the initial problem isn’t what truly needs solving. Sometimes, it even shows that no code is needed at all!

Removing code as a solution

One of the best solutions in coding can be to remove code. This might sound counterintuitive, but unnecessary complexity is a major source of bugs and maintenance headaches. By thoroughly understanding the “why” behind a problem, we can often simplify our codebase or even eliminate entire features that aren’t serving a real purpose.

Finding the right solution

Once you’ve established that code is indeed necessary, knowing the “why” helps immensely in choosing the right approach. It allows you to:

  1. Scope the problem accurately
  2. Choose a solution that fits the timeframe
  3. Implement something that’s “good enough” without over-engineering

Remember, the goal isn’t always to create the most elegant or comprehensive solution. Often, it’s about solving the core problem efficiently and effectively.

By focusing on “why” before “how,” we can create leaner, more purposeful code that truly addresses the needs of our users and stakeholders.