Software Development Done Right

Your Guide to a Successful Product Release

Ch. 5: Be Crystal Clear on Your Why

This critical point is far too often overlooked.


I’ve found one of the best things that a customer of mine can do to help me help them build the best software product possible is to be crystal clear on WHY.


As Simon Sinek explained in his wildly famous TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”. It’s not enough to tell your customers what and how you do what you do, you need to start with the why. Starting there will inspire your customers to have a deeper understanding and give them a North Star.

"The North Star has always been the same, which for us, is about making insanely great products that really change the world in some way - enrich people's lives." - Tim Cook


However, before you define the “why” for your customers, you should have it shared internally both with your stakeholders and the engineering team building your product. That is where it starts. If you don't have a clearly defined why, then how can you expect your team to know where they're going? And if people feel like they're part of something bigger than themselves - something meaningful - then it gives them something worth fighting for. In one word it gives them motivation.


Let’s focus on motivation for a minute. The definition of motivation is “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.” If you look closely the reason, IS THE WHY. But there are other important reasons why you need to share the why and they might not be clear to you in the beginning. It gives another important element that you need on your team and that is empowerment.

The engineering team needs to feel empowered to make the changes at the lowest level to build an amazing software product. It’s these low-level details where only the project manager, engineers, architects, QA engineers and whomever else is on your team will need to make critical decisions. Equipping them with the how, and what doesn’t help. Instead, if they are armed with and understand the why, they have the information to make the best decision that they can. In the end, providing the “why”, empowers your team will make the best decision it can and in turn motivates them to continue to implement your product vision.

While a mission statement or vision statement may seem like an unnecessary addition, especially when most of the people in charge already know what the company's goals are, there are several practical benefits that come from clearly explaining why something needs to get done. And the why doesn’t have to be anything lofty like “curing world hunger”. It just needs to be clearly stated not only at a high level but more importantly, continually reiterated when you work on specific features of the application. I hope the series of Software Development Done Right  (SDDR) thus far is helping to bring my knowledge of best practices when developing your apps.


In the next article, we will discuss some ideas on how you might create a document and standard templates so everyone both starting to work on the project and those joining in the future have a clear why. I call it a “Project Charter”, you can call it whatever you wish, but it’s an important document to keep everyone aligned.

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