The XY Problem [Chen]

Distinctions are a powerful concept. Labeling a pattern makes it easier to identify it and respond to it. And that’s exactly what Lily Chen did for me with

The most common problem I’ve seen in product/engineering process

In this short piece Lily gave a label to a common pattern that I’ve seen time and time again, in much broader scope than the product development one that Lily’s piece is focused on.

The XY Problem — is asking about your attempted solution rather than the actual problem. You are trying to solve problem X, and you think solution Y would work, but instead of asking about X when you run into trouble, you ask aboutY

The best way to avoid the XY Problem, other than simply being aware of it, is to get into a habit of asking “why”. As Lily suggests, “behind every what there’s a why”. In any problem-solving collaboration, don’t start looking for solutions before you’ve moved from the default starting spot in the What Stack an everyone understands at least a couple of “whys” up the stack.