It’s good tactics to start with the goal

Recently I wrote about the need to state the problem for any solution—that is, when proposing or discussing some kind of approach or thing to do, it’s really important to be clear about the problem we’re trying to fix. Or, to put it another way, it’s important to say why we want to do something. We need to separate the solution from the outcome and state both.

There’s also an important tactical play to bear in mind. I often see people develop a particular like or dislike of some technology, and then advocate around that. For example, “We’re still using jQuery; it’s time we dumped it.” Or, “Microservices is a much better architecture—we should starting building around that.”

That advocacy for or against a particular solution may be well-intentioned, but it’s a problematic starting point for a discussion. We are setting ourselves against a solution that some people will already have feelings about—even if we’re advocating for a particular solution it’s typically to replace an existing one. Immediately we create an opposition of those who have an emotional attachment to something they have spent a lot of time working with, even if they also have their reservations. Any existing solution was brought in for a reason, and it can be an insult those decision-makers of the past to ignore that. Even if we’re advocating something entirely new, implementing that will be at the expense of something else. In the end, creating an opposition only makes things difficult for us.

If our motivation is to make something better then we need to take a step back and ask ourselves, honestly and carefully, what that is. What is our goal? If there is a problem to be solved or an advantage to be mined then we can start building a coalition around that goal. And once we have that coalition we can debate honestly what the best solution might be. This reduces unnecessary opposition and helps us find a better solution. That may or may not favour the solution we originally considered, but if we’ve been honest with ourselves about what our real goal is then that shouldn’t matter.

The important thing, then, is to focus first on the goal, and move on to favoured solutions only once that is clear.

Photo by Mobilus In Mobili

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