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, business analyst, or people leader, it’s a critical skill. It’s not just about asking questions, 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.
Do you have a marketing plan?
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 marketing plan look like? 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:
Often a business will have a goal and an idea of what to do about marketing. How does your company handle creating plans to achieve your marketing goals?
Depending on your client, you’ll get a different answer – what you will get, though is a conversation rather than just 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 where you asked the right questions – or the wrong ones?