• Problem Solving – Top 10 questions to ask when something doesn’t work

    For the latest version of Problem Solving, where the verses are now called Steps, are correctly numbered and link to further details in the form of a presentation see Problem Solving – The annotated poem – October 2019

    The top ten questions to ask when something doesn’t work.

    Problem Solving, by Herb Miller

    The Cast

    The first thing that you have to do
    when something has gone wrong
    Is make a list of who to ask
    It shouldn't take too long
    Number one is called the Asker, 
    and that is often you.
    Then there is the Askee 
    he/she is number two.
    In case you have a problem
    which may require three
    The stupid question asker
    fits that role nic-e-ly
    In many situations
    it really doesn't hurt
    to ask the person we believe
    is THE domain expert
    There is one other person
    to avoid more oft'n than not.
    And that's the Project Manager
    He'll help you. Not a lot!

    The Process

    The question list you follow
    depends upon your role.
    The questions that you ask 
    come deep down from your soul.
    In no particular order
    is the way the questions go.
    You keep on digging deeper
    'til the answer you do know.
    The general process to perform involves these five, you'll see
    first go through the Asker's Q's
    then bother the Askee
    The Stupid Question Asker's 
    come in at number three
    you'll often find involving them 
    resolves it quick-er-ly
    Next you try the expert
    who may actually be thee.
    But please avoid the PM; 
    to maintain your sanity.

    The Askee’s questions

    1. So here is your first question. 
    Don't tell me I'm a jerk.
    "But have you seen this function 
    ever act-u-ally work?"
    2. Question 2 is good and true 
    and doesn't cost a dime
    "Do you really think it worked 
    when you ran it last time?"
    3. Question 3. 
    A bit of fun. 
    Ask yourself
    "What have I done?"
    4. We know you're really busy,
    you have a full work load
    but please try to remember...
    "Are you sure you changed the code?"
    5. Now think again more carefully.
    Try not to get annoyed
    "The code that you are running,
    is that what you deployed?" 
    6. Dig deep into the source files
    and you may get a fright
    "The code and comments do not match.
    So which of them is right?"
    There are a few more questions. 
    Well, slightly more than three.
    but let's now shift and look at those 
    we get from the Askee

    The Askee

    The Askee knows that nowadays
    it doesn't cost that mu(r)ch
    to choose some words then type in 
    your best long tail Google search
    So no results, then this technique
    can often be your saviour
    Reduce the problem to the simplest
    showing bad behaviour
    The next question will demonstrate 
    that you are really keen.
    Ask them to reproduce the bug
    on a-not-her machine

    The Stupid Question Asker

    So still no luck, it's time to call the
    Stupid Question Man
    Who usually says, "Explain again
    the problem if you can"
    I know you think I'm stupid
    because I'm not a geek
    but does the code work on
    any other day of the week?
    And regarding the data,
    you'll think that I'm a chump
    "but does it work on Windows
    running last Wednesday's dump"?
    I know I've suffered this myself
    I don't think it's a sin
    "I often find I can't do things
    until I am logged in"

    The Expert

    And still you have no answer.
    Are you feeling strong...
    to hear the Expert tell you
    "You're doing it all wrong"?
    Or "Why then should I help you?
    It's really not your place,
    to say you've got a problem
    but not provide a trace!"
    Another of their answers
    offered without delay 
    "I upgraded to version x
    the problem went away"
    It only works on Windows,
    not Linux nor Unix? 
    So take a break, it's time to take
    time for a bar of Twix.    
    (should be KitKat - but don't argue with the Expert! )

    The Project Manager

    I'm going to skip the questions
    the PM may well raise, like
    "When'll you have a fix for it,
    are we talking hours or days?"
    Or, "If this problem had occurred
    not in test but in live,
    then how long would our e-business
    be able to survive?"


    Problem solving is a skill, 
    you learn more every day.
    The bugs are in there somewhere.
    They don't just go away.

    Post Scriptum

    Use these questions in your work; 
    when hacking in your den.
    But never try to number them
    in order: 1 to 10.

    (C) Copyright Herb Miller, 2014

    For the original script from which this poem was taken
    see: bobbingwide.com/phphants/2013/11/01/top-10-questions-to-ask-when-something-doesnt-work

    For the true original see:

    For the Lightning talk at WordCamp Bournemouth see:
    Problem Solving – A Lightning Talk



    Last updated:

    January 6, 2020

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