Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ask "Why Do You Ask"

As a traveling consultant working for a company pushing for agile, I keep on being asked for similar question repeatedly. "What do you do in stand-up?" "Why is TDD good enough to spend time on?" "What do you mean the velocity is 20 this week, 25 last week, and 18 the week before???"

Naturally, I trid to come up with the best answer based on the experience I had had, the books and articles I had read, the other conversation that I had had with other people, and the understanding that I had gained about the one who asked the question. Slowly, my answer to the above questions became bigger and bigger, with more details, more angles, as if I was getting closer and closer to the truth.


What I have realized in the past year, was that the best way to answer these questions, actually, are:
Give a 30-second brief answer. Stop, and ask: "Why Do You Ask?"
Different people have different situation, and are seeking the solution to different problem when asking the same question. In this case, giving a by-the-book answer, no matter how pragmatic or complete it is, does not necessarily solve that problem.

Here is a true case.

When I was traveling in China, I stayed late in the office one day to do some market research and spike on BuildMaster project. Another ThoughtWorker, who was doing some of his own thing, turned to me and asked "So what have you been working on lately?"

Since he expressed interest in DbFixture before, and that I knew he was on beach at the moment, I thought he was looking for something interesting to work on. So immediately I went on talking about the problem that I was trying to solve and the "grand" vision that I had with BuildMaster, Cotta and jBehave. I went on for 5 minutes (if not more) and realized none of them gained any interest. Going out on a limb, and out of a bit frustration, I finally asked the million-dollar question.

Turned out that he had an idea of starting an open-source project to help WebServices testing and would like to get me involved because of all the xFixture projects that I had been working on.

Granted, it was not exactly a straightforward question. Yet more and more I start paying attention to the motivations behind the questions rather than the questions themselves, and even sometimes observing the conversations others have.

And the rest is history.

I can now control myself much better nowadays instead of "blah blah..." for minutes.

Otherwise, I might as well say "42"
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