The Importance of Asking the "Right" Questions

If you do not ask the right questions, you do not get the right answers. A question asked in the right way often points to its own answer – Edward Hodnett

Questions can be very powerful in getting what we want and can make the difference between a failed project and a successful one. How accurate your requirements are is directly related to the quality of questions you ask.

There is something superficial about today's culture, however: The masses of information available out there and the culture in most organizations can place significant pressure on professionals to project or exude knowledge, even when they are ignorant. A higher premium is often placed on answers than questions. Consequently, admitting that one does not know can quickly become a source of stigma, especially in situations where one is “expected” to know.

Imagine a BA who fears that stakeholders will look down on him or lose respect for him if he asks questions that indicate his naivete about a subject. He is comfortable enough typing his questions into the Google search bar but not enough to ask stakeholders direct questions. If only all questions can be answered by Google... He therefore, albeit unwillingly, gives up one of the most powerful skills he was born with: the power to question, in the hope that somehow, the knowledge he needs will reveal itself if he waits long enough for someone else to do the questioning.

The questions we ask or don’t ask can make or break a project. Questions are in particular, extremely critical to business analysts for a number of reasons:

1) They help to increase the understanding of both the questioner and the persons to whom the questions are directed. Good questions trigger deep thinking which increases understanding and clarifies confusion.

2) When we ask questions, assumptions are brought to the fore. If you think an answer should be straightforward, wait until you ask the question. You will be surprised at what assumptions or information are unveiled when you ask the right questions.

Questions, when properly framed, help to trigger deep thought and are useful in exposing those requirements that may lie beneath the surface.

3) Asking questions is a quick way to build partnership and cooperation with stakeholders. Good questions can help to build rapport and trust with stakeholders.

Becoming a great analyst requires that you question yourself and others, while remaining open enough to listen to and challenge responses.

Beyond the immediate benefit of facilitating successful elicitation events, we all stand to gain immensely by learning how to ask good questions. Only by questioning in a way that helps stakeholders achieve a common understanding of what direction to take can we say we have truly served their needs. Questions should be embraced for what they are: learning opportunities and not signs of intellectual weakness.

Organizations should strive to promote cultures that encourage individuals to ask questions without fear of criticism or reprimand. Cultures that encourage people to ask questions help to build innovation, freedom of expression and creativity in teams. So, if Google can't help you or a knowledge gap needs to be addressed, ask that question no matter how naive it may sound or how crowded the meeting room is. You would fill a gap in your knowledge and at best, bring to fore an insightful line of enquiry that adds value to the conversation. 

Picture Attribution: “Time For Questions Shows Support Frequently And Assistance” by Stuart Miles/