Horse Crossing Sign

What is the Question?  Horse Crossing

Questions are a powerful tool for eliciting information, helping people grow, or leading people.  However asking questions often requires more than just opening your mouth and uttering the first words that come to mind.  Asking the right questions at the right time is a combination of art, science, and preparation.

  1.     Have a Goal

Establish what your end game is for asking a question.  For example, are you trying to gather facts, an opinion, or change behavior?  Your goal will affect both how you phrase a question and timing of delivery.

  1.     Develop a Strategy

Depending on the goal, the questioner needs to decide how they interact with the person they are going to ask questions.  I recently provided advice for a leader that wanted to help an employee identify and address a behavior issue.  The set of questions we agreed upon were designed to help the employee identify and then develop a solution to the problem.  The strategy was very different than the questioning strategy I would employ for a guest on the Software Process and Measurement Cast.  The strategy needs to meet the goal of the conversation

  1.     Loosely Script Questions

Based on the goal and strategy, develop a loose script of questions.  For example, if I am trying to gather information or opinions I will put together a set of questions with possible follow-up questions.  Even if you never use the script, game planning the interaction can make it easier to listen rather than concentrate on thinking up the next question. Consider starting by asking broad questions then spinning down into more detailed questions.

  1.     Use Humor and Negative Emotion Carefully

Humor is a great tool to build connections between people.  The problem is that one person’s humor is not always the same as another’s. When humor doesn’t click the interaction will tend to shut down.  Anger (real or feigned) makes a great theater in oration, however, embedding anger in a question will tend to shut a conversation down and cause the person answering the question to be very guarded, reducing the value of the answer.

  1.     Open Conversation (if that fits with the goal)

Use questions to facilitate an open conversation. Open-ended questions are often a good tool to get a person to open up and begin talking.  For example, asking a development team to describe the project they are currently working on will illicit more information than asking whether a team made the date they committed to making.

  1.     Listen

Ask a question, then stop and listen to the answer.  Listening is not the same as using the time to create a new question or to answer a text message.  Multitasking is a myth.  Listen first, then react to what you have heard.

  1.     Ask Only What You Need

There is an old maxim, take what you need and leave the rest.  Time is precious: do not abuse the time and attention you get when interacting with people.

These are just a few suggestions for getting better at asking questions.  Some of them, such as having a goal and strategy, are applicable to every scenario. Scripting might not be needed in every situation. However you likely need to consider your approach if asking something more complicated than whether dinner will be in 30 minutes. Even then, I think conscious thought might be needed.

Listen Now
Subscribe on iTunes
Check out the podcast on Google Play Music

The next Software Process and Measurement Cast features our interview with Brad Clark.  Brad and I talked about cost estimation, estimation in government and COCOMO II and what is on the way in COCOMO III. Even if you are firmly in the #NoEstimates camp this interview will give you ideas to think about!

Brad’s Bio

Dr. Brad Clark is Vice-President of Software Metrics Inc. – a Virginia-based consulting company. His area of expertise is in software cost and schedule data collection, analysis and modeling. He also works with clients to set up their own estimation capability for use in planning and managing. He has also helped clients with software cost and schedule feasibility analysis and cost estimation training.

Dr. Clark received his Master’s in Software Engineering in 1995 and Ph.D. in Computer Science in 1997 from the University of Southern California. He is a co-author of the most widely used Software Cost Estimation model in the world, COCOMO II. This model estimates the effort and duration required to complete a software development project.

Email: brad@software-metrics.com

Re-Read Saturday News

This week we tackle Chapter 5 of Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World by Brian J. Robertson published by Henry Holt and Company in 2015.  Chapter 5, Operations, puts the roles and policies defined in governance to work.  Next week we will have some VERY exciting news about the next book in the Re-read Saturday feature! (more…)

Book Cover

Holacracy

This week we tackle Chapter 5 of Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World by Brian J. Robertson published by Henry Holt and Company in 2015.  Chapter 5, Operations, puts the roles and policies defined in governance to work.

Robertson starts Chapter 5 by recalling the adage – slow down to speed up. We are being exhorted to pull back from the day-to-day work in order to improve how the organization is organized by listening to a diverse group of people.  The use the structure of the organization defined as part of governance to do work is operations. Said differently, everything that does not fall into the responsibility of governance is operations. Operations are about using the structure to find a governance. (more…)

CC Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Questions are a critical tool that every coach, mentor or leader uses to help shape and improve the performance of those they interact with.  ‘Question’ represents a high-level category that describes many different types of questions.  This is similar to the screwdriver.  If you were to walk into a hardware store and ask for a screwdriver the clerk would ask what kind and/or what you were going to use it for in order to help you find the right kind.  There are different taxonomies of questions which are useful to help practitioners decide what type of question suits which purpose. (more…)

Asking Questions Imply Listening

As coaches, leaders, change agents and even parents, the act of asking questions can take on an almost magical power to guide and change behavior. As with any powerful tool, when the tool begins to take on magical attributes, the users of the tool begin to forget that a tool is just a tool.  At that point to quote, Ian Brown, “they just become a fool with a tool.” Questions are a useful tool for a coach because questions: (more…)

Listen Now
Subscribe on iTunes
Check out the podcast on Google Play Music

The Software Process and Measurement Cast 442 features our essay on capability teams. The use of teams to deliver business value is at the core of most business models.  Capability teams are a tool to unlock the value delivery engine of teams.

Gene Hughson brings his Form Follows Function Blog to the cast this week to discuss his recent blog entry titled, Systems of Social Systems and the Software Systems They Create. We live in a complex world and just focusing on social systems or software systems misses the point!

Our third column is from the Software Sensei, Kim Pries.  The entry this week is titled, Software Quality and the Art of Skateboard Maintenance. This entry is an homage to Robert M. Pirsig the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, who recently died.

Re-Read Saturday News

And welcome back!  For those who are interested, The Frederick Half Marathon last weekend was great.  I met my goals: I crossed the finish line, collected my medal and got to hang out with my family in Frederick.  This week, we begin Part Two of Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World by Brian J. Robertson published by Henry Holt and Company in 2015.  Part Two is titled Evolution At Play: Practicing Holacracy.  In my opinion, Part Two provides readers with the nuts and bolts needed to use Holacracy.  Chapter 4, titled Governance, takes all of the building blocks from previous chapters and starts to weave them together. (more…)

Book Cover

And welcome back!  For those who are interested, The Frederick Half Marathon last weekend was great.  I met my goal; I crossed the finish line, collected my medal and got to hang out with my family in Frederick.  This week, we begin Part Two of Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World by Brian J. Robertson published by Henry Holt and Company in 2015.  Part Two is titled Evolution At Play: Practicing Holacracy.  In my opinion, Part Two provides readers with the nuts and bolts needed to use Holacracy.  Chapter 4, Governance, takes all of the building blocks from previous chapters and starts to weave them together. (more…)