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Unravelling the right question
In what context?
You pass an old mare at pasture as you approach the farmhouse-style tech office. You enter the office and head to the conference room.
“We should kill it.” You hear.
“Yeah, it’s old, and no one uses it anymore, and it wastes resources keeping it live.”
“Agreed. Becky, let’s kill HORSE.”
“Don’t kill the horse!” You picture the old mare.
“What? We’re talking about HORSE, the High Output Recipient Scaling Engine. It’s a legacy service, and no applications call it anymore.”
Did I mention you’re in Silicon Farm?
We’re bound to enter conversations or projects late—we don’t know the history, and we’re not up to speed on the latest discussion. It’s confusing and frustrating and furthers the idea of imposter syndrome that ravages professional confidence. If you find yourself confused, a great question to ask is, “In what context?”
Most problems are knotted balls of yarn. Before you can start to unravel them, you must know which yarn ball you’re handling. “In what context?” identifies the yarn ball.
Back at Silicon Farm:
“We want to kill HORSE.”
You find out the team wants to deprecate a legacy codebase, but you don’t know why. So, you embrace your inner five-year-old and ask:
“To clear up tech debt.”
“To easily launch new features.”
“To attract new customers.”
“To earn more money.”
“The CEO wants to buy a new beach house and move the company to California.”
At this point, you discover you disagree with the premise. You like life on Silicon Farm—the rolling hills, open space, and general pleasantness of your neighbors—and decide it’s a great place to live. You don’t want your company to move to California.
The Five Whys help to unravel the yarn ball.
You now understand the problem: Moving the company from Silicon Farm to California. The team brainstormed potential solutions and concluded HORSE deprecation as the best approach.
You can’t help but wonder: Is this the right problem?
Brainstorming is fine, but you might solve the wrong problem without the right frame.
Framestorming is a method to generate multiple questions and problems before considering solutions. In the words of Einstein: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes solving it.”
Back at Silicon Farm, the team framestorms:
Move to California?
Increase the talent pool?
Have a better lifestyle for the team?
Improve the CEO’s status?
The team discovers the right problem is increasing the talent pool since Silicon Farm has a small population relative to California. With this reframe, they can brainstorm other solutions. They might improve their talent pipeline with career fairs, offer remote work, or launch exciting projects to attract curious minds.
Framestorming helps you know if a yarn ball is worth unraveling.
Ask “in what context?” to know which problem you’re solving.
Ask “why” five times to understand the reason for the problem.
Framestorm to find a better problem.