UNDERSTAND THE REASON
  • Knowing why it is I am doing what I am doing
  • Recognizing how the interaction of underlying factors and assumptions impacts our work
  • Asking questions to clarify “the why” beneath a request

COMMENTARY
Often when we are given a task or find a problem to solve, the first response is to just jump in and start fixing things.  While this usually works out OK if the task is fairly straightforward, there are times that I find that I have created a solution that no one really asked for.  This can be frustrating because 1) the person asking for help didn’t really get what they expected and 2) I just spent a bunch of time working on something nobody will use.

“Understand the Reason” helps us avoid this pitfall. Let me explain. As a web developer, I often find that when someone makes a request, they do so because they have something that is preventing them from accomplishing a goal or task. While they may not know what should be done to remove or “get around” the obstacle, they usually have a good idea of some solution. So, they ask for help and provide a potential solution to their problem. Often however, especially in the case of technology, there are many interrelated factors that are contributing to either the current state of the system they are using, or to the actual problem itself. There are many times that systems have been developed a certain way because the sub-systems require that they be done that way.  

If we apply our “Understand the Reason” GuideMark to these requests, the first thing we do is not jump in and start working on a solution, but instead, we take time to get to the root issue and to determine what the requester is really trying to accomplish.  

So, what does that look like in real life? Often there are requests like: “Can you change the “Company” text box on page ‘X’ so that allows me to type more characters?” If we just changed the character limit on that field there is a good chance that we will miss out on learning the real reason behind the request. Instead, if we ask some clarifying questions first, we might learn that a) nobody uses the “Company” text-box to enter a company name and b) they have been using that field to categorize items on the page since there is already a way to group items by the “Company” field and the “Category” field, which also exists on that page, doesn’t categorize items. By digging a little more, we also find that the users don’t actually need a free-form “Category” box, because there are only five things they ever group items by. Learning all of that, a better solution becomes obvious. We can update the page to allow grouping on “Category” and in addition, change that field to a drop-down so the user can simply pick from one of the pre-defined choices instead of typing one of the same five words over and over. We have not only removed the roadblock but have also helped increase efficiency and accuracy (less typing). We could even remove the unused “Company” field and clean up the interface a bit for extra credit.

Not all problems are that easy to solve, but by taking time to “Understand the Reason” we help ensure that we have addressed them in a way that actually helps.
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Key words and phrases
Comprehend the information; Insight into the circumstance; Discern the meaning; Realize the importance; Grasp the significance; Perceive the implications; Make sense of the facts; Realize the situation

Opposite terms
Ignorance; Lack of understanding; Failure to comprehend; Miss the point

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GuideMarks – Distinguishing Characteristics of FFL E-rate Guides

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