Divide and conquer problems not people.

divide et impera “To gain or maintain power by generating tension among others, especially those less powerful, so that they cannot unite in opposition.” https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/divide+and+conquer

When we apply this to problem-solving people normally take it to mean having several people work on the same problem separately and simultaneously. Then coming back together to evaluate the different solutions for the same problem.

“We’ve got a problem with production; let’s spend 20 minutes to divide and conquer it.”

I think a better way to solve problems is to actually divide and conquer them!

Divide the problem

Divide the problem into smaller tasks. It would help if you did this as a team so that there’s a shared understanding of what problem you are trying to solve. This should be called ‘planning’ but that term has been hijacked by people who are ‘managing’. When you need to spend some time with a group of people looking at a problem, call it ‘problem dividing’ and focus on breaking the problem down. There are many techniques to help you to do this:

  1. 5 whys
  2. causal diagrams
  3. six thinking hats


Having gathered this shared understanding of what the problem is, now is the time to conquer it. This can be achieved by taking chunks of the divided problem and working on them individually, as a pair or in a mob.

Much of my time spent pairing with people is spent on dividing the problem down. People often get hung up on the idea of two people coding; it’s a lot easier to reason about it when you explain it as two people problem-solving.

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