The Critical Importance of Starting with ‘Why’ in Software Development

April 29, 2024

By Kim Burmeister, CEO

In the fast-paced world of software development, it’s common for teams to dive straight into the “what” of a project—what features to build, what technologies to use, and what outcomes to achieve. However, this approach often overlooks a crucial component: the “why.” Simon Sinek, an award-winning author and TED talk expert, emphasizes the importance of starting with ‘why’ in his book, “Start with Why.” He argues that understanding the purpose behind a project is essential for its success.

Imagine a typical meeting in your organization where the agenda is to discuss a new software solution. The marketing team suggests features to capture market share, while engineers discuss the technologies that could be leveraged. Everyone contributes ideas on what the software should do. Yet, how often does anyone pause to ask, “But why are we building this?”

To ensure alignment with your business goals and customer needs, consider these questions from the outset:

  • What impact will there be if we don’t develop this software?
  • What opportunities will it create if we do?
  • Why should this matter to our team and customers?

The answers to these questions can profoundly influence the design and development process, ensuring that you don’t just build something, but you build the right thing for the right reasons. For instance, when developing a mobile app for controlling window blinds, a team might think to include a feature for scheduling scenarios. While this answers the ‘what,’ exploring the ‘why’—such as enhancing energy efficiency, privacy, or security—might reveal the need for additional functionalities like integration with sensors or security systems.

This deeper exploration into the ‘why’ helps in designing features that truly resonate with end-users, potentially leading to more innovative and useful solutions. For example, initial versions of the software might offer manual controls, while future iterations could introduce more sophisticated automation based on user feedback and technological advancements.

Furthermore, engaging with your customers to validate the ‘why’ is crucial. Assumptions about customer needs can often lead to missteps. Directly involving them can uncover new insights, leading to solutions that genuinely add value.

Statistically, up to 49% of software projects fail, often due to misaligned objectives and unclear requirements. By investing time to understand the ‘why’ before moving forward, your team can avoid unnecessary rework and develop a solution that meets both user needs and business objectives effectively.

Asking ‘why’ isn’t just about understanding the purpose of the project—it’s about building a meaningful solution that resonates with your customers and stands the test of market demands. Always start with ‘why’ to ensure you are building the right thing in the right way.