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The Golden Circle in Requirements Engineering

Do you like music? If so, then you probably call a record player your own, right? I see, you like to listen to your favorite band in the subway on your way to work and thus prefer mp3s? Oh, you like to stream music over your smartphone?

Music lovers use the devices best suited for their specific purposes and application scenarios. To recognize these scenarios and to provide solutions for them is what requirements engineering is all about. But how should manufacturers of these kinds of devices should go about determining these scenarios, what is the best way to gain an understanding for them and how does the Golden Circle fit into all this?

The Golden Circle

The concept of the Golden Circle was introduced by Simon Sinek. It refers to an interplay between „What“, „How“ and „Why“.

Practically all companies have a pretty solid idea of their „What“. Every member of a company knows what this company does, whether it distributes software, designs cars or develops a music streaming device.

In most cases the “How” is also clear. Daily operations, partners, tools and work steps are common knowledge for most of the members or they are being worked on. They are the focus of business analysts, process specialists, executive departments and marketing teams, and they often lead to strategies of differentiation from other companies and distributors, to unique selling points and to a value proposition.

The “Why”, however, is the ultimate challenge. Why does a company do what it does; what is its driving force? Why should customers, users, people interested in music opt for a solution of a particular manufacturer?

The Golden Circle by Simon Sinek

The Golden Circle by Simon Sinek


Directions Inside the Golden Circle

Companies busying themselves with the Golden Circle do so from the outside to the inside in most cases. They know their „What“ and put a lot of effort into their „How“. Then they try to derive from these two their “Why”; the reason for them producing washing machines, building rockets or designing motion sensors.

Directions inside the Golden Circle - From the Outside to the Inside

Directions inside the Golden Circle – From the Outside to the Inside

“Why?” is the question that is really interesting and answering it is not as easy as it seems. Why is that? Because it is the mother of all questions; for people as well as for companies.

Each employee develops his or her individual meaning; it is rather improbable that a kind of common meaning affecting the organization will come from it. It would be a lot more useful for companies to take a different direction and to answer the “Why” first. Ask your company’s founder for his or her driving force and motivation and you will be surprised. What you will get is no less but an inversion of direction inside the Golden Circle making the “What” the result of all efforts.

Inversion in the Golden Circle

Inversion inside the Golden Circle

Users Change Their Habits

Who is the leading manufacturer of phonographs at the moment? Oh right, there isn’t really a market for phonographs today. What a pity for Emil Berliner and his business partner, the patent holders for the phonograph.

Maybe you do call a record player your own; there are still some people left. Record players have made a kind of minor comeback in the last few years, with sizzling noises, haptic sensations and supposedly superior sound remarketed as features. Record players still make some people very happy.

I am pretty certain you do own an mp3 player of some sort, or at least a device capable of playing mp3s. Nowadays these players can be seen in combination with giant headphones, for whatever reason. Very few people use a Walkman, and if they do they probably do it when strolling down memory lane. Handling cassettes, fast-forwarding, rewinding and the looming danger of tape spaghetti are just not acceptable anymore.

CD players still are part of the basic equipment for many households; but who owned a Discman then, or even a Minidisc player? Today, streaming services offer flat rates and provide access to extensive music libraries. From phonograph to streaming services, the habits of music lovers have changed drastically in the last 100 years.

The Golden Circle in Requirements Engineering

Many manufacturers of music player have vanished over the course of time. Habits and markets did change quickly and drastically, leaving them no chance to adapt and survive, right? Now the inversion of direction I mentioned earlier comes into play again.

The one simple thing music lovers want to do is listening to music; of course mobility, portability and flexibility have become important factors in this. Why do manufacturers have a hard time offering viable solutions for them? Beacuse they focus on their own system components. They look for the “What”, sometimes for the “How”. How can I reduce this Walkman’s weight? How can I transport this CD from A to B without scratching it? But the “Why” makes all the difference.

Many manufacturers have a tendency to neglect the needs of their users and their ever-changing application scenarios. In what situations do they want to listen to music? How? How do they get access to the music? Do they really have to buy and own the music they listen to? Isn’t it enough to make the music accessible to them? What about pricing?


The Golden Circle is very useful for requirements engineering. The question of “Why” is essential even if daily operations do not leave much time to find answers to it. Pace, quality and efficiency for your next project will benefit if you know why you are doing what you are doing.

Do not try to find ways to make CDs resistant against scratches; ask yourself whether you need a physical medium at all. Focus on your users, clients and partners. And try to imagine new products, products you yourself have dreamed of 10 years ago. Like headphones able to stream music without a dedicated music player.

Headphones that stream music - the future?

Headphones that stream music – the future?




Recommended reading
Emil Berliner and the history of the phonograph

Michael Schenkel believes in useful tools, that support users in their work and that provide a common working environment for all types of roles in a project. He became a member of the microTOOL family more than fifteen years ago and took over the position of head of marketing for about half a decade. In October 2017, he moved on to a new adventure and we wish him all the best on this new path.

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