I discovered this during a retro moderated by an agile coach. The goal of the exercise is to fill 3 columns entitled “What, so what, now what”. Each of them is a step in an analytical approach to derive actions from what the team found relevant.
- What: the observed facts. No opinion, no interpretation, just facts.
- So, What: Here are the interpretations, the extrapolations, based on the facts put into the “What section”. This is the sense we makes of facts.
- Now, What: now we know what is, what happened, and we have an interpretation on what is means, we can think of an action to take or a decision to make, if needed.
This is a very basic way to agree of a step-by-step analyze.
This is a very lightweight logic to qualify an information.
For example: “it’s raining” is a fact. “We will be all wet” is the interpretation. “We don’t go outside without an umbrella” is the decision. An action could be also to “take an umbrella”.
Let’s reverse a bit the exercise:
- “We have an alert on component A”:
- What: ✓, So What: ✗, Now what: ✗
- “The service 1 is offline so the service 2 can’t work”:
- What: ✓, So What: ✓, Now what: ✗
- “You just have to approve”:
- What: ✗, So What: ✗, Now what: ✓
I show the results like this because missing a step in the reasoning make it incomprehensible.
When I have to exchange with some persons outside of my team, I try to add the context to what I want to communicate. It is hard to find the right balance between adding some context to my request and keeping the message short to get to the point. Most of the time, people just don’t care. But in an other hand, this is also a way to have more valuable exchange: the person receiving the message has the context, the logic, and the next step at once. She can directly get the context of my need or even tell me why I may be wrong.
I also use this as filter for incoming communications. I find very cheap for me to find which steps are present in an incoming message.
A message with only one step (the “What” most of the times) is very expensive for me: I have to fully change of task, loose my focus, use my memory, check the sender and the team she is part of to get more context, to be able to interpret, and get the point. It’s expensive.
A message containing two steps is way better but still needs some investment. Most of the time those mails are a big hope but may end with a “So, what?”. Which in our case should be a “Now, what?”.
I treat with priority the ones with the 3 steps. They are not free but they are the cheapest thus they have the biggest gain regarding the energy invested.
When I am exchanging with occupied persons, I even put the the “Now, what” first in the TL;DR.