Never mind the half-baked solution, what was the problem? (The X Y Problem)

by Aidan Harding - March 02, 2018
Never mind the half-baked solution, what was the problem? (The X Y Problem)

As a consultant, and as a developer, one of the most useful things you can do is to take a step back. If someone asks you a question about a detail of a solution they are working on, it’s often worth finding out what problem they were originally trying to solve.

For example, if someone asks you for tips on how to bang a nail in with a shoe, the best response is not to demonstrate an effective arm-action for swinging the shoe. The best response is to find out what they actually want: They want the nail to be in the wood. So, they should get a hammer and solve the easier problem of banging a nail in with a hammer.

They might not have even known that hammers exist. As an experienced consultant/developer, that is the kind of thing that you do know. It’s where you can add value over a mere implementer. It’s what is known as the X Y problem and is always worth keeping in mind.


The XY problem is asking about your attempted solution rather than your actual problem. This leads to enormous amounts of wasted time and energy, both on the part of people asking for help, and on the part of those providing help.

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