Step 3: Get the Right Answers by Asking the Right Questions

In our first two articles in this series, we discussed the importance of internal preparation and success measurement. The third step we’d like to discuss is the importance of asking questions. Once you have decided that you have a problem to solve or an opportunity to pursue, the natural response is to look for answers.  Our advice is to resist looking for answers until you have clearly defined your challenges, problems and opportunities.  Use the following questions as a springboard to help define your business problems and opportunities.  Focus on questions like these to develop the full picture.

  • What are my business objectives?  (Write them down and review them frequently as you go through this process.)
  • What current challenges does our business face?
  • How does ______ relate to my business objective?  (Fill in the blank with an objective, problem, request or opportunity.)
  • How will I keep my project from failing?
  • What are the consequences of failure?  What are the consequences and benefits of success? (Sometimes these two questions help clarify the objectives.)
  • What accommodations will we have to make to allow employees the time, energy, experience, willingness, commitment to take on a project?
  • What elements must we consider to develop a solid business case for solving this problem or pursuing this opportunity?
  • Who will head-up my project?
  • Who is or will be the project’s executive sponsor?
  • Who will participate in the various stages (definition of objectives, goals, measurable, requirements, timeline, determination of decision-making team, determination of recommendation team, selection methodology, decide to use inside or outside people, budget determination of the project)?
  • How will we determine which conflicting objective or requirement will prevail?
  • How will we involve all departments?
  • What data entry methods will we use?
  • What are our outside vendor and customer requirements (audits, labels, ordering methodology, etc.)?
  • What will happen if we achieve this objective?  Are there any foreseeable unintended consequences?  (Sometimes, too much success is worse than too little success.)
  • How will this solution, idea or process resolve the problem?
  • What is the root cause of this problem? What else might be causing this problem, challenge or issue?
  • What assurance do we have that we can handle the success if this works?
  • What problems will we create by doing this?

In fact, at this stage, the only thing you should focus on is questions.  Question everything – many of the processes and perceived needs in your organization are a result of your current business management software.  In other words, many of your processes and what you do are because of your current business system – the software you want to replace.  Don’t try to replicate your current system in the new software.  Get input from your staff, customers and vendors.  Spend the time and energy to get your team to agree on what issues, problems, and challenges you are facing and what opportunities you can pursue.

Many years ago we were helping a client replace an IBM System 36 computer software system.  They had a number of issues in their project costing and purchasing processes that they determined were impairing their success. The person in charge of the project had six months to retirement and was training his replacement.  We had a meeting and had consensus on the plan and process.  Within two weeks we had a call that nothing was working like the System 36.  We drove three hours to the client site and reviewed the issues.  We again left with the consensus that the original plan was correct.

Within a few weeks we were back in the same situation.  It wasn’t working like the System 36.  The new business management system wasn’t the problem; human interaction and resistance to change was.  The moral of the story: You cannot achieve new results by continuing to use old thought and work processes.

Stay tuned for Step 4 – Distinguishing between Objectives and Processes and Recognizing the Importance of Your Customers