When we’re given a new assignment at work, the first questions we often ask are:

  • What needs to be done?
  • How are we going to do it?
  • When is it due?
  • Who is it for?

These are each important questions that should not be missed, but there’s another question that we should make a point to ask and answer as soon as possible: “Why?” This deceptively simple question can come in many forms, such as:

  • Why are we doing this project?
  • Why is it important?
  • Why am I the right person for the task?

Some might be apprehensive to ask their leader “Why?” for fear of being met with, “Because I said so!” It’s important to build a culture where the Why question is encouraged rather than dismissed. We assure you that answering the “why” of a project is never wasted time. Defining the why prevents us from wasting time going down the wrong path, missing opportunities, or focusing on the wrong aspects of a project.

A popular technique for getting to the true root of it all is “5 Why’s.” Because sometimes asking why once is not enough. Maybe the first one will get you to, “Because we want to make the process faster.” Why does the process need to go faster? Because our employees don’t have enough time to innovate. Why don’t they have enough time? As the question often enough and you just might arrive at a powerful, unexpected insight.

Understanding the purpose of a project will lead us to the root of the problem we’re trying to solve. Not sure what problem your project is trying to solve? Check out ITK’s Problem Framing tool. Use it alone or with your team. Building consensus around the mad-lib-like problem across the bottom will provide your group with a measure of success and a goal to work towards, and make sure you all know why you’re doing what you’re doing.