Ask a stupid question …

… get an important answer.

Two colleagues of mine demonstrated to me today a habit which, on its surface, can be difficult to understand.  They really enjoy asking the stupid questions.  We’ll be in a design review, looking at a fairly straightforward diagram showing a few components interacting, and they’ll ask what customer use case this represents and what those components are.

We all know the answer.  It’s fairly obvious. But the person writing the design didn’t label the components and left it open to interpretation.

My first instinct was to jump in, say it wasn’t important, that we needed to get to the guts of the design to review it.  I was wrong.

The benefit of asking the stupid question is that the stupid answer you get just might not be the one you expect.  It’s so obvious that everyone just assumes their answer is right.  They probably are.  But when five people each feel that way, and nobody makes sure all five are thinking of the same stupid answer, you’re probably in a situation where there is more than one stupid answer out there.  And as work progresses, more and more assumptions get built atop those shaky foundations, until someone finally figures out the flaw in communication.

By then, everyone is so invested in their own interpretation that there are bound to be difficult conflicts, messy redesigns, and more.

So ask the question up front.  Don’t be afraid to look dumb.  One of these times you’ll spot the problem a month early and it’ll all be worth it.