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The why, what, when and who

If you want to build a ship,

don’t drum up people to collect wood and

don’t assign them tasks and work,

but rather teach them to long

for the endless immensity of the sea.

This post is part of a series on product design patterns.

A framing that I’ve seem work on multiple occasions in designing sequencing strategies is to address your ideas in the following order:

  1. Why: what’s the problem?
  2. What: what would help it?
  3. When: in which order should we go about it?
  4. Who: who should we invite in this journey?

The habit here is to present your work in that order:

We have an opportunity because of why. We should start doing what by when. We should invite who and who to join us.

The reason this is an effective framing is because it sets you into a mindset of deciding what’s the right thing to do first and working backwards.

A what without a solid why is a solution looking for a problem, supply without demand, a product that struggles to fit a market need.

This order enables you to compromise on the when (e.g. delays) and who (e.g. hiring new engineers or making part of your team useless) but rarely on the why.

For example, it is common to compromise on the what (e.g. a minimal viable product) based on an imposed when: by taking the pressure to launch on a specific deadline, you can corner yourself launching a what that have all of the properties that you need.

More often than not, I’ve seem whens being imposed artificially (though non-artificial whens exist too) and causing more harm than good (e.g. first to market is often overrated).

Another common trade-off is to start with the who and work backwards to define a what. It can lead to a sub-optimal what because it assumes that the who is fixed (i.e. that you can’t hire or sub contract) or even that you can’t trade the who for a longer when (e.g. fewer people working on a project can lead to a longer development timeframe is the skillsets are available).

Start with why and what is the right things to do and work backwards. It often works.

Related Work



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