Which is it more important to get right, answers or questions?

Most issues identified are poorly defined and cannot be addressed without answering many questions. I was once asked by a project manager, “What are all the unknowns?” Of course, we didn’t know.

Addressing these poorly defined issues can be a daunting and challenging task. The key is to break down them down into small, manageable questions that can be answered and acted upon. They may be many questions influencing the issue, so the real trick is finding the right questions. No one is grading you, so if you are answering the wrong questions, your actions may also be wrong.

Let’s say we want to improve Customer Satisfaction. Our instincts may tell us that we have annoying salespeople, poor quality products, and long delivery delays. But what is annoying, what is poor quality, and what is a long delay? We could investigate the average length of time each salesperson keeps a customer, number of warranty claims by product, and on-time deliveries. This information will validate (or invalidate) our instincts. If we were wrong, we will need to ask other questions until we find out why we have a customer satisfaction issue. Only then should actions be taken to improve customer satisfaction.

How do you qualify your questions? Or do you just get answers? Or do you manage from the gut?

Next time someone asks you a poorly defined question ask why…and keep asking why until it is no longer poorly defined.

David Fields

Principal of Solve. Directs our Northwest Arkansas team. Works closely with clients to identify, scope, and manage engagements that improve business results through Business Intelligence and Custom Application Development.