Many managers are confronted with complex decisions to make, and not enough time in which to make them. One way to help make better decisions more quickly is knowing how to ask questions that get to the core of the subject, and not just tiptoe around the edges.
Let’s look at an example. If you ask what your marketing budget is being spent on, and you get the answer “We’re spending X amount and have a market penetration of nearly 38%”, do you just have more facts to remember, or does that really help you make a decision and act on the information?
Odds are, it really doesn’t help you. It doesn’t help you understand if the money is well spent or not, and it surely doesn’t help you make any critical business decisions. So how do we ask the right questions, and how do we know when we’ve got a good and helpful answer?
A good question seeks to understand, and a good answer helps to decide.
How do you ask a good question?
Asking good questions gets you halfway to a good answer.
- Don’t stop at fact-questions, ask knowledge questions: Consider the questions “What is our marketing budget” vs. “how well is our marketing budget being spent?” The first question will get you an answer, but the second will help you understand what the answer means and what is significant about it
- Focus on the penetrating “why” and “how” questions instead of the simple fact-seeking “what”, “when” and “where” questions
- Ask “why” five times: many people are afraid to dig deeper into an issue, and will only provide relevant information after some “digging”. You will be surprised where the answers lead when you keep digging.
How do you know you’ve got a good answer?
Answers should remove ambiguity and uncertainty from your decision making process.
- Is the answer enough for you to have a well-founded opinion on the matter?
- Can you safely conclude whether or not action is required? Think about what would happen if you ignored the issue. If nothing would happen, then you need to dig deeper (or conclude that this topic is not worth the effort).
- Can you make a concrete decision based on the answer?
Putting it together
Asking more specific and detailed questions gets you better answers more quickly and helps you get to the bottom of the real issues. So the question you should be asking marketing is “How effective is the money we’re spending on marketing, and why is it so effective?”
When people see you reading this article they shouldn’t be asking “What’s that article?” but rather “Why should I read this article as well?”
If you have any comments or feedback, or would like to learn more about implementing agile methods in your organization, please reach out to me at any time.
This blogpost was originally published on the consulting blog of Nils Boeffel at https://boeffel.net/en/blog/