Questions are the answer

Ben Holliday’s UXBristol talk about ‘Asking Design Questions‘ really resonated with me.

As a consultant, you can often feel like you are supposed to have all of the answers.

I think it’s more about having all of the questions.

Every challenge presents a problem to solve.

You can’t understand the problem without asking good questions.

They are fundamentally important throughout the entire process.

You need to question your brief in order to understand it properly such as…

  • Why are you doing this?
  • Why are you doing this now?
  • What do you think are the reasons behind the problem you are seeing?
  • What is the cost of the problem to the organisation today?

Successful early meetings are grounded on asking questions such as…

  • What problem are you really trying to solve?
  • How will we know if we have succeeded?
  • Who should we involve?
  • What should we know at the end that we do not know today?

Questions, questions, questions.

Our research starts with identifying the big questions that are on our clients minds such as…

  • Why has our conversion rate dropped?
  • Do people understand and value our proposition?
  • What are the most challenging aspects of choosing a university course?
  • Why do people choose our competitors over us?

We explore the business context of our work by interviewing senior stakeholders and asking questions such as…

  • What are you trying to achieve as an organisation?
  • How does this piece of work contribute towards your vision?
  • What is the impact of this problem?
  • What do you want to get from this project?

Questions, questions, questions.

We explore these within our research with people by asking them questions such as…

  • When did you book your last holiday?
  • What are you looking for in a new car?
  • How do you go about choosing a new savings account?
  • How do you find out about planned changes to your local area?

Once we’ve completed our research we’re still asking questions such as…

  • What have we learned?
  • How can we communicate our learnings in the most effective way to the people who need to hear them the most?
  • How can we apply what we have learnt to improve what we are working on?
  • Which problems should we tackle first?

Questions, questions, questions.

When our work comes to an end we’re still asking questions such as…

  • What went well?
  • What would we do differently next time?
  • What have we learned?
  • Which of our initial assumptions and hypotheses proved to be true?

But it’s not just the project team who are asking questions.

Our customers are full of questions that they need answers to before they can complete their everyday tasks such as…

  • Is it good quality?
  • Do I like the look of it?
  • Do I trust them?
  • Can I return it if I don’t like it?

The best products and services second guess (and then answer) the questions of the people who use them.

What’s the most important question you need to answer to improve your own project, career, product or service?

Questions are the answer.

What are your superpowers?

I love asking people what their superpowers are.

It’s a cracking opening gambit, particularly over a few drinks.

I’ve learned all sorts of amazing things about the people I work with.

One colleague can guess the price of any banana by simply weighing it in her hands.

Another knows exactly where they are on their commute without looking out of the windows of the bus.

Since an early age I have been able to throw cricket balls unfeasibly long distances.

All good stuff!

It’s a really useful question to consider from a work perspective too.

Your superpowers are the things you find easy, that other people value and find very hard to do themselves.

Perhaps you find it really easy to build rapport with people or you might be completely un-phased by giving presentations to large groups of people.

Knowing what your superpowers are is a superpower in its own right.

I’ve started to adapt it further when interviewing senior stakeholders about their business strategy.

I simply ask “What is your organisational superpower that your customers value and your competitors find really hard to do themselves?”.

It’s a nice way to liven up what can sometimes be quite dry conversations.

Businesses should not only be trying to get better at the things they do badly, but also to optimise their superpowers – as it is these that their competitors will always find so much harder to match.

Take a moment to think about your own superpowers and ask your colleagues about theirs too.

You may never look at them in the same way again!

Master the basics of your business

Recently I listened to a the ex-England rugby player Will Carling talk about his time as captain.

He described a time when his team were experiencing a poor run of form.

He decided the team needed to reset by focussing on doing the basics well.

His thinking was sound.

His plan was to go back to basics and become better at them than anyone else in order to win more games.

First he asked his team to identify the basics.

Some argued for the line out, some for kicking, some for scrummaging.

They quickly realised they all had a completely different view on what the basics of a relatively simple game are!

What chance do you have of success if you can’t agree on what the basics are that you need to get right!

Every business has a set of ‘basics’ that it needs to master in order to succeed.

An airline has to have access to a fleet of well maintained planes.

An ecommerce business must offer a great delivery & returns service.

A photographer must have mastered the technical aspects of their equipment.

A business consultant must be able to build excellent relationships and trust with their clients.

Consider your own business.

What do you think are the basics that you need do brilliantly in order to succeed?

I bet you think it’s obvious but then when you give it some thought it becomes less unclear.

Ask your colleagues to do the same thing and compare your ideas.

If you all agree it’s good, you’re aligned.

If you all disagree then it gets really interesting!

Without this thinking and alignment how can you know where to focus your finite time and effort?

You can’t do everything, but you have to get the basics right to stand any chance of success.