The Power of "Why" (and a new SCRUM Guide!)

Have you noticed how often small children ask the question ‘why’? Try speaking with them about any topic and you will quickly hear the question ‘why’. As you see, to understand the world around them they seek to know why it is as it is. Kids are brilliant at not accepting things for what they are and they seek a deeper understanding. By knowing this they gain a more cohesive view and are able to connect more things together much faster (basically so they can make better decisions).

Yet as we grow up we ask the question ‘why’ less and less and this trickles into our working life. How to spot that you may ask? In your next meeting, listen if anyone enquires into the reason behind the meeting or if the first question you hear is about the content of the discussion (the ‘what’). Or notice when a meeting starts and everyone delves into how to solve something (the ‘how’) but no one checks why they should be solving that something in the first place. How often have you seen this happen? And how often do you catch yourself wondering if you or your team are on the right path? Guessing more often than you might think, is that right?

There are probably many reasons why we tend to forget this particular question or not start with it. One common one (at least in work life) is not wanting to appear like the only one who doesn’t “know” or presuming that everyone already understands even though, more times than not, there is always someone who is not in the know.

The issue of losing the ‘why’ or being afraid to ask it can lead you and your team on a much longer path of discovery or even wrong, unnecessary solutions. How do you know what needs to be done if you do not know the true reasons behind it? If you do not inspect the value of where you spend your efforts and if that still matches your ultimate goal, then how do you know that what you are doing is the right work and if it is the best and fastest route to your objectives?

So next time you are running a meeting or generally are talking with someone don’t be afraid to be a kid again and ask ‘why’. You might be surprised how much further and quicker you and your team will move. It’s such an important question that the new 2020 Scrum Guide has explicit references to it (oh yes, there’s a new Scrum Guide out!).