The best kinds of questions to ask

Previously I wrote about the value of asking questions. During elicitation activities, well-planned questions will assist your stakeholders in delivering the information in a way that is helpful for your analysis.

Not only can you elicit everything you need, you can do it in a way that is easy for your stakeholders to provide. This is because they are talking about what’s important to them. Their business.

It’s all about them and not about, for instance, the technical ins and outs of implementing a system and other stuff they don’t understand and don’t need to know about.

Before proceeding with more detailed questions, these are the types things you need to structure your initial questioning around.

  • Who they are (roles and responsibilities)
  • What they do (their business or service)
  • How they do it (processes and procedures)
  • When they do it (events and schedules)
  • Where they do it (location)
  • Why they do it (their policies, constraints, values, goals and drivers)

You also need to know about the challenges or issues your stakeholders have. Issues may become apparent when you ask the above “who, what, how, when, where and why” questions. However, it’s good practice to ask directly about your stakeholders’ challenges, e.g., “What are your current pain points with the annual leave application process?” And “Why?”

“Why?” is the most common question I ask and it is no doubt the most important. I ask why to almost everything. I’m not talking about the “judgy” and confrontational why, e.g., “Why do you do that?!” But the inquisitive, explorative and results-driven why, e.g., “Why does it take 5 days to get a leave application approved by the manager?”

So ask the good “why” questions and just keep asking until you’re satisfied you’ve reached the root cause of the issue or a complete understanding of the situation or business requirement. You’ll find that the better the quality of your questions, the more aligned your results will be to your stakeholders’ needs.

Finally, by asking questions you become more a part of your stakeholders’ world. And you’ll be able to understand, reflect and converse with them in their lingo. Then you’ll really know their business and be well on your way to winning their hearts and minds.

And you’ll deliver great results! I tell you why here.

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