Sometimes Just Ask Why

This is part of a series of articles from the retired The Dev Manager website.

What happened to “why?” What happened to make people so afraid of asking this question? Perhaps it’s when all of the 3-year-olds start asking “why” about everything. Why does mommy have to go to work? Why do we need money? Why is the sky blue?

Or perhaps it’s been the poorly trained hoard of bosses and superiors who have asked the question “why” which alluded to their arrogant incompetence. When the purposely ignorant ask “why” it can be quite annoying.

But, “why” doesn’t have to be so bad. The greatest inventors asked “why.” So many “why” questions have lead to so many awesome discoveries. There is a very good side to this question.

“Why” should be asked more often. When used correctly, “why” can be one of the most important questions you can ask programmers on your team.

When you ask a programmer “why,” you are not being disrespectful or judgmental. You are trying to learn. So, don’t act like they did something wrong. This is an up beat, fact-finding question, not an accusatory one.

When you ask “why,” we’re not talking about knowing every detail about the actual code. As a manager, you should have an intimate knowledge of the decisions that are made and the solutions that are applied. You may not have a complete understanding of the technology or its implementation, but you need to understand why it was implemented.

When you ask the programmer “why,” you get two benefits: the chance to make the programmer (and quite possibly yourself) think through the task thoroughly and the ability to provide feedback.

When you ask someone “why,” a unique thing happens in the brain. Instead of having this vague reason floating around up there, it has to be solidified and put into spoken word. This is something in itself. There are times when we make decisions without thinking about it. I bet in the last few seconds, you adjusted your arm, perhaps supported your head. You made the decision to move your arm to do this. Why? Was your head too tired? What if that cost you five cents every time you made a move with your arm. Would you think through each movement then?

A great Dev Manager doesn’t ask why for no reason. They sometimes just ask why to understand, to constructively challenge, and to help own decisions.

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