What is what, not how?

“What, not how” is a software development philosophy that prioritizes what a product will do over how it will do it. It is part of business rules created to automate decisions, so there is no doubt about what to do when it comes to making the decision. It has been applied to software development and achieved tremendous results.

How does “What, Not How” Work

In this approach, a permanent judgment is made on a subject that requires constant decision-making. This means that you won’t have to make the same decision again. Once it comes to that point, the choice is created automatically, and you can proceed to the next subject.

An example of this approach at work is the dressing codes of Barack Obama and Steve Jobs. Instead of deciding what to wear every morning, every day of the week, they have automated this daily decision to wear the same outfit every day. In a business setting, this philosophy is used to make permanent decisions at various points in the workflow.

“What, not how” applies the same logic in software design. Most software designers (not UX designers) tend to concentrate more on how an application works. This philosophy, however, advocates for a focus on what an application does. Explaining how an application works can be hard to understand for someone with no software development experience.

Instead of complicating things, developers should only explain what a product does, what needs to work, what happens in case of an error, and what role the user plays. This provides a better in-depth understanding of the application so that the consumer finds it easier to use.

Advantages of “What, not how.”


This philosophy protects data and information that product managers and software developers would not want everyone else to know. Some application designs are like secret kitchen recipes. When the food is on the table, the consumers only need to know what it is and what it is made of, and not how it is made. Application users need to know what the application does and what it doesn’t do. How it is made is not as important to them.

Speeding Up Production

“What, not how” helps developers to maintain their focus solely on developing the application. Presentation, review, and management of software projects are simple when few decisions are made; when developers start building an application, focusing on the “what” of the project speeds up the planning and development.

Accelerated Teamwork

Software development teams require a common area of focus when working on a project for the project manager. Focusing on “hows” could bring complications, as everyone is allowed the freedom to express their own opinions, leading to disagreements. When disagreements occur, it’s hard for teams to complete a project. Alternatively, “whats” are easier to answer, even at the beginning of the project. Once participants agree on what they want to achieve with the product, the project can go on uninterrupted to successful completion.

“What, not how” is a business rule that has been adopted successfully into software development. It helps avoid making the same hard decisions in various project phases, thus saving time.

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