Know how to define a clearly articulated question and how it relates to stakeholder needs
- [Voiceover] The first step of the structured thought process is defining the question. We have to know what we're trying to answer. So many times we just skip that step and say everybody knows what the issue is. And then we rush off, do a bunch of work, come back with a recommendation, and to our surprise, nobody agrees. Well guess what? Nobody agreed on what the question was in the first place. So you need to identify what the issue is to solve and define why it's important to solve it.
So many times we leave off that why part. Let me show you what happens. If I came to you with the what and I said, hey team, I need you to get me your best idea for how we can generate one million dollars of profit. And then I walked away. You would go off and come up with some ideas. If I gave you a minute right now you may generate ideas of, we could raise prices, we could cut costs, we could enter a new market, we could launch a new product. And all of those are good ideas that may generate a million dollars of profit.
But I didn't tell you why I was asking for the profits. What if the question I gave you had the what and the why? And that question was, hey team, how can we generate a million dollars of profit because we have a budget shortfall that we need to make up in the next four weeks. Now look at your ideas that you may have generated in that first example. Are you gonna be able to enter a new market in four weeks? Launch a new product in four weeks? But if I didn't give you that why, you may rush off and do a lot of work only to come back and find I'm not supportive of your idea.
So when you write the question down, and this is part of the discipline is writing the question down, make sure you capture the what and the why. The reason to do this is it helps you focus on the main issues, avoid that wasted effort of going out and answering the wrong question, and you're going to generate a case that will resonate with that stakeholder. In that example, if I told you I need a million dollars in four weeks, and you come back to me with an idea that's says, Mike, I can get you a million and a half dollars in three and a half weeks, I'm probably going to support your idea.
Because you satisfy my why. Let me give you an example of a question, because they should be very simple. And when you write a question well, it helps people understand what you're trying to solve as well as scoping what the solution space could be. What if my question to you was, how can we decrease business unit costs in order to increase our overall profitability? Let me desconstruct that question because there's three elements of scoping that I've created just with the way I've asked it.
First, I've said it's a cost problem, so any ideas about new products, revenues, pricing, marketing, those are off the table. This is about decreasing cost. The second element is in this business unit. Not that one, not that one, not that one. Reduce cost in this business unit. And then the third scoping element is show me how much shows up as profit. Don't just tell me we save a million dollars, I need to know how much of that will hit the bottom line in terms of increased profitability.
So a well written question helps scope the overall problem solving space. Let me walk through another example. A situation is, our primary competitor is reducing their prices to steal market share from us. The reason we have to solve this issue is we have to maintain our market share, but we can't afford to really cut our prices dramatically because our profitability would go down. The question I create for this example is, how can we maintain market share without significantly decreasing prices so we can maintain our overall profitability.
Let me deconstruct this. I'm saying maintain market share. That's the objective function. I want ideas that help us maintain. I'm not even looking for an increase, I just want you to keep us where we're at. I also tell you without significantly decreasing prices. That word has important scoping implications. I've told you that changing prices is in scope, just not very much. And lastly I'm saying the why, this is important to me is, overall profitability.
Show me that we maintain that level of profitability. When you write the question down, it provides clarity to the team in terms of solutions that would be acceptable, and solutions that won't meet my need. As you define your question, make sure you document the what and the why, and then go back to your stakeholder and ask them, is this what you want me to solve? When you do that and you get that clarity, the likelihood of coming back with a recommendation that will meet your stakeholder's needs goes up dramatically, which means you're much more likely to get your idea approved.
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