Asking the right questions

I have been looking on LinkedIn a lot lately and trying to answer some of the questions raised in discussions. I found it hard to give a useful suggestion most of the time because the question was not asked with enough context.

Asking questions is a skill. For a consultant, PM or a business analyst, it’s a critical skill. It’s about asking the right questions in the right way.

What are the right questions? That depends on your objective. Who, what, when, why, how are a good place to start. Thinking about your end goal will help determine what information you need.

  • What are we trying to do?
  • When do you need to have it done?
  • Who will be doing the work, who will be affected by the outcomes?
  • Why are you trying to achieve this?
  • How have you done this in the past, how can we get started…?

These are all excellent questions. When the questions are framed this way the gap is context. When you start to form your questions, think about the people you will be asking, is there ambiguity in the context? Will you need to explain the background? Can your answer come in a yes/no format – this is not what you are aiming for most of the time.

Let’s look at an example.

Question:

Do you have a PMO?

Answer:

Yes or no.

This can be misleading when you go to implement a solution.

If you realize there’s more information, you might ask what does the PMO do? If you go down this route, you’ll get the information you need, eventually, but you are setting up more of an interrogation than an interview.

A new approach:

Question:

Often an organization has formal or informal project support, methodology, training and prioritization. How is this handled in your company?

Answer:

Depending on your client, you’ll get a different answer – what you will get, though is a conversation rather than an answer. The conversation will lead to a richer understanding of what, why, how, who, when.

If you think about the bigger picture of the information you need, you’ll start to form more open and encompassing questions and the result will be a better understanding of your client.

Do you have any success stories, or horror stories?

About Perry A. Wilson

Perry A. Wilson, PMP, has solid experience in all facets of Project Management. As a project management consultant, her expertise in process methodology, design and strategic project planning is a huge asset to aid you with your project whether you require hands on support, guidance and mentoring, or training to learn how to make your project succeed beyond expectations.Perry Wilson has developed her approach from lessons learned through delivering multi-million dollar projects, on time and under budget.
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5 Responses to Asking the right questions

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  2. Perry says:

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