I’m now on my third week as the new Head of Product at Platzi, and it feels like both a lifetime and no time at all! I’m excited to get to know the product, the team, and most importantly the students. I’m also excited to bring my years of experience to an exciting problem space. I’m a lifelong avid learner and passionate about new ways to make education effective and accessible. And I’m grateful for that passion, because onboarding with the team has been quite demanding!
The XY problem is a common communication problem where the real issue, X, is obscured because the person asking for help frames the problem as a secondary issue, Y. It’s especially common in tech support scenarios, but can also happen in any situation where someone is trying to solve a problem that is outside of their expertise and looks for help later rather than sooner. You’re ultimately looking for solutions to a symptom rather than the real problem.
For example, I’m an avid runner, and a few years ago I found that I was having to spend more and more time doing special exercises to help with foot pain after every run. I had purchased every kind of massage tool, had tried every kind of physical therapy, and had taken every kind of pain medicine. It just wasn’t working, and I accepted the pain as a part of my hobby. The next time I went to buy new running shoes, the clerk asked me if I was having problems with anything. I was so used to the pain at that point, it didn’t even occur to me to complain about it. Luckily, the clerk had me take some tests to check my gait and the shape of my feet. He recommended a different pair of shoes with a different insole, and like magic - months of pain disappeared. I was wasting so much time and pain when I could have just asked an expert! My X was that I was trying to stop my feet from hurting, but the Y was that I needed help in understanding how to buy running shoes that fit me.
I find that the XY problem often happens when someone is motivated and curious, but also probably a little insecure about bothering someone or feeling stupid for not understanding everything right away. I’m certainly not immune to this - my running example is some strong evidence! As I work to become a member of the team, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of information to learn and the number of new faces to meet. I’m also working in a language that is much newer to me than my native English as well as joining the team at a time when I can’t just go to the office to get to know everyone better. My strategy of baking cookies to share can’t help me!
But the more time I spend with the team, the more it becomes clear to me that a strength of Platzi culture is that vulnerability and humility can be rewarded. The more that I admit that I don’t understand something or even ask simple questions about where I can find certain information, the more guidance I receive. I have certainly worked with teams where this was not the case, and I still need to push myself to be more vulnerable, to ask more questions. I’m excited that Platzi is a safe space for this growth.
Many years ago I was working in UX for an ad tech platform when a member of the accounts team reached out and asked me if I could help her format an image of a chart so that she could include it in a report. I was halfway through editing the image in Photoshop when something important occurred to me. The platform already had a feature to send reports to clients, including the graphic she needed. So why wasn’t she using it? It turned out that her client wanted the information in a different file format than we provided, so she was manually copying the information that she needed to send every week into a new file. She was solving for her Y of wanting to insert the graphic into a new file, but the real X was that the platform wasn’t giving her what she needed because we didn’t understand her clients. We changed the reporting feature to include the file format she needed, and suddenly she was saved from hours of work per week.
I realized that I needed to spend more time with the users to understand the root of their problems- I couldn’t just wait for them to come to me with a problem. I also needed to give our users the tools and vocabulary to come to us with their Xs, and not wait until they had an impossible Y. I had rarely spoken to my colleague in accounts before this problem, and that was a big part of the problem! She didn’t even know who she could ask! I often find that both stakeholders and users get accustomed to how things work and figure out their own broken ways to solve their problems rather than ask for help. They might be able to accomplish their goal in the short term, but they will waste time and feel frustrated. And they might not even know where to begin with asking for help.
This is something I want to reinforce as part of Platzi’s Product Culture - that we can get to the X faster by creating space and tools to help students and stakeholders ask the right questions, and that we can learn to reach out better and think more critically when what we start with is a Y.
I still have so many things to learn, but I’m excited to begin working more closely with the team and with Platzi’s students to improve their experiences. In particular I’m excited to work with the entire Team Platzi to strengthen Product Culture across the company. I still have so many questions to ask, and I need to keep asking them. I hope that by sharing this experience on the Platzi blog, I can also encourage Platzi students to ask for help - sooner rather than later!