Questioning, one of those project management skills that needs to be well honed.

I was facilitating a workshop with a project team and realised that something was wrong!

Symptom: the 5 people in the project team were talking differently about the project

Analysis: I gave each person a piece of flip chart paper and asked them to write down the project objectives

Result: 4 different sets of objectives (2 were the same)

We discussed this and the team came to the conclusion that they had not done enough asking. This however was challenged by one of the team members. She gave a schedule of people they had spoken to and it was impressive.

The room went quiet, very quiet.

I then asked whether the group felt they had dug deep enough with the types and level of questioning; whether they had really teased out the true objectives. Silence again!

Then after a difficult discussion in which the group identified the questions asked they came to the conclusion that they needed to further develop not only their project management skills but their questioning skills.

We identified a number of questions that they needed to ask to identify clear objectives. At the same time we discussed the need to develop their questioning skills. I was able to give them a handout on this topic which they found really useful.

A free questioning skills guide!

How good are your questioning skills? This group like many who come on our project management training courses needed to develop their questioning skills. They found the handout useful so I have placed this here for you to download and it’s free!

So, the question is, to download or not to download….and whether you need to develop your questioning skills.

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10 Responses to Questioning, one of those project management skills that needs to be well honed.

  1. Thanks for sharing, I really like the table on the second page of the download, great advice!

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  3. I learned one trick which helps much everyone in coming to the core of problem. If you happen to be a person who isn’t very familiar with the issue ask until you understand what exactly is happening.

    I often use it against my developers. Since I definitely lack programming knowledge they need to go at least one level further to make me understand the problem. This often leads them to rethink the whole thing.

    The same trick you can use as an outsider in a team in a situation you’ve described above.

  4. Ron says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    Pawel’s comment reminded me of the use of the ‘office’ cynic. This is the person who says ‘we can’t do this’ or ‘we have tried it all before’. Use them to test out the real understanding….and it does not simply need to be around objectives. It can be around risks, stakeholders etc. We had someone who tried it on an unsuspecting cynic. They invited him along to a meeting and the result was that the objectives were challenged, rewritten and made more sense!

    All companies have them so why not make use of them?


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  6. M Criss says:

    Another good approach is to ask questions which require the customer to state their objectives in quantifiable terms. Sometimes this take a little effort on the part of the PM to root out fuzzy objectives. If the customer can’t succnitly state their objectives, then some work needs to be done, to help the customer quantify their objectives, before you start the project. If this can’t be accomplished, then maybe the project shouldn’t be started.

  7. Ron says:

    I agree completely Michael. There are far too many objectives, success criteria, benefits that fit the fuzzy word you use.

    It is the job of the project manager to route out the true answers to what the customer means and put theses into a form of words that can be measured and delivered. A poor objective may never be delivered so the time taken is well worth it…if you have the skill!


  8. Another aspect of this is that asking questions sometimes can be annoying to people under stress or in conflict situations. Especially if the questions has been asked and explained many times before, asked too late in the project lifecycle, or intended not to seek information but to draw attention to something else or challenge an assumption.

    If not done carefully, this can create more stress, irritation, and conflict. I try to preface my questions with something like: “Explain it to me as if I am a 6 year old” this tends to make people stop and take notice. Sometimes they smile, nod, and continue the conversation. this can break the tension and sometimes disarms the person we are talking to and they become more patience. If you know your question will be irritating because they have been asked and answered too many time before, I say something like “This is only for my own education so thank you for helping me out”.

    So my advice to Project Managers is: try not to be annoying, especially when you are talking to technical people. They don’t like it.

  9. Ron says:

    Samad, great points which for me justify my own posting; that project managers need to develop their questioning skills. Points like:

    “Explain it to me as if I am a 6 year old” or

    “This is only for my own education so thank you for helping me out”.

    Will come from someone (I belive) who has some good skills in this area.

    Thanks for the comments


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