Ask this question to future proof your product decisions

A headshot of Jotham, Head of Product at Brightec

Why asking ‘why’ is vital in good mobile app development

At the start of an engagement it’s typical for a client to ask “Can you give us feature X by the end of this time period, with this budget?”.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to reply “Yep, we can do that”. However, before you do so, you should ask a question in return - “Why do you want feature X?”

Asking the ‘why?’

I have found that to spend even the briefest amount of time at the start of the project discussing the underlying motivations (the ‘why’), repays everyone involved 10 times over. Not only that, it also brings repeat value. You can refer back to the why again and again. You can make multiple decisions from it. It will serve the client over a much longer time period than simply delivering the original surface-level request.

Understanding why a client wants to work on something uncovers the deeper motivations for their business, team or customer-base. It opens the door to input and ideation from your team (who are being hired for their expertise after all). Its a precursor to an alternative approach that might get to the real goal in less time. Or with less technical headaches. Or even one which does the job better and is more sustainable over the lifespan of the product.

You can ask 'why' in a confidently humble way. (You can read more about being Confidently Humble, and our other values, here.) Yes, you and your team are the experts in your field, but your client is an expert in theirs. Nobody knows their business as well as they do. Your project is necessarily a Venn diagram of those two areas of expertise. If you don’t ask: ‘Why?’ - you will risk the project missing the sweet spot of that Venn diagram.

Asking 'why' is better than just saying yes or no to the client. It builds a deeper shared understanding between your team and the client, which at the end of the day builds something much more powerful - trust.

Read more about why we believe in frank, open conversations being a vital part of creating mobile apps.

Applying the ‘why?’

Once you’ve heard what the client really wants, it is critically important to write it down in some way.

To really maximise the value of it (and wherever it is appropriate) it should be written down somewhere accessible to everyone on the project. Your engineers, your designers, the client stakeholders and anyone else who works on the project should be able to easily view it and reference it. It can’t stay in your head alone.

At Brightec, we use all sorts of tools for this during an app development project. Miro boards, JIRA spaces, Google Sheets connected to metrics, Slack channels named by purposes. It doesn’t really matter what the tool is, so long as it is easy to reference by the wider team and is regularly used in your wider process.

Despite it being crucial to hold fast to these core goals, it is really difficult to do so. It's hard to keep the ‘why’ at the front and centre of our thinking, in every meeting of every day. You and your clients are extremely busy. Other pressures come out of the blue. Project noise builds up. A new team member is onboarded with new ideas and they’re all exciting ones. It is very easy to forget where you’re supposed to be going. (It's also easy to ignore the signs when you’re going the wrong way, but more on that later).

It won’t be enough to write it down and stick it somewhere to tick the box. You will need to repeatedly call it out verbally, in meetings and in Slack/email responses throughout the project.

When you’re refining tickets in your JIRA backlog, are they tickets which contribute towards these goals? If not, why are you refining them? There might be a valid answer but it might also be that this stream of tickets is not the best use of your time. You can use the ‘why’ to push back on these.

When you’re planning a sprint, are all the candidate pieces of work working towards these goals? If not, why are we spending precious time on them? You can use the ‘why’ to justify this discussion and to anchor any change of plans.

Is there a meeting in the diary about a topic which appears random or disconnected to the core goals of the project? Ask why it’s scheduled and whether now is the best time to meet. Maybe it can wait. Maybe it isn’t needed at all. Or maybe it is completely relevant and in this case, asking 'why' will only deepen your awareness of the client’s needs. It’ll keep that Venn diagram in check.

Altering the ‘why?’

Occasionally, there are times when it’s appropriate to reconsider the ‘why’.

A ‘why’ shouldn’t change as often as a ‘what’ or a ‘how’. But even a ‘why’ can change from time to time. This can happen for various reasons.

You might have taken the first ‘why’ as far as you can take it. You’ve successfully met all the related goals that you set at the start of the project and the client is consistently thriving as a result. You’ve brought positive, fundamental change to what they offer their customers. So much so that the original ‘why’ no longer feels like the most powerful driver for their business.

Or maybe the wider market that your client works in has changed so significantly that they’ve had to pivot their business in a fundamental way. Maybe some external factor has swept through their industry and majorly altered their business model.

But there is also a chance that the previous articulation of why the client wanted to work on something was not quite the full picture. Sometimes you have to ask 'why' more times to find the real root. It's possible that there was a deeper motive all along, and you’re just about to find it.

If you’re changing the 'why', you need to be extremely diligent in walking that journey with the client. If you don’t, you’ll end up making fractious decisions on the project and introducing unnecessary tension in key decision-making meetings. You can’t afford to be on a different page to the client at a root level.

Talking to the client is super important. As is talking to the customer base. Regular investment into user research will not only inform the specifics of what you’re building in the near term, but it will also serve as a temperature check on the longer-term ambitions for the project. You can read about one of our user research methods here.

Harnessing analytics and other quantifiable metrics should also play a central role. If your client’s goals are metrics-based, you should 100% be monitoring progress towards those goals, and regularly reporting back to the wider team. This is not only useful and (hopefully) rewarding in the ongoing focusing of the team’s efforts, but it’s also a major component in building long-term client relationships.

If you can articulate to your client that you know what they’re really after. If you can cut straight to the heart of their deeper ambition and show that everything you’re doing is building towards it. Then your value to them as an agency has just skyrocketed beyond simply an external company that comes in, gets the job done and then leaves. You’ve reached a new category of working relationship, you’re now in the realms of a long-term partnership, repeatedly doing the right work and enjoying recurring value for everyone involved.

Click here to find out about our mobile app projects with long-term partners.

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