How to formulate the right questions, when developing a project ?
The topic of today is to learn to formulate the right questions when applying the Design Thinking process, which means when developing a product/service in a collaborative way. Remember that those questions are shaped differently depending on their utility. In other words, you do not ask the same questions if you are in the “empathize” phase, or during the “prototype” one (same reasoning for the other steps). You will then need to re-create each time the appropriate questionnaire to judiciously complete the Design Thinking. This might seem to be a hassle and boring approach, yet taking the time needed to formulate all your questions will allow you to better understand your clients, as well as gather precious data that could be useful at any time.
Since a young age, we learn to answer questions, yet not to formulate them. Indeed, at school we usually need to resolve issues and create answers, but not really to conceive the right questioning that helps finding the answers (this one is already defined). However, when working on a project it is crucial to ask yourself the right questions, in order to provide the perfectly-suited product/service to your clients. For instance, if you have finalised your project without the feedbacks of your potential clients, you will not know if your product answers the needs of your customers, or if it just answers yours.
Rule for a good Question
For a question to be pertinent, it needs to be simple, clear and precise. Furthermore, it should have an impact on the reality of the targeted individuals, which will allow you to obtain honest and useful answers. To that end, include values, hopes and ideals in the questions you elaborate. On the other hand, your questionnaire does not have to only focus on the solution you are proposing. Broader answers lead to the discovery of unexpected things about your interlocutor. In other words, asking the right questions will enable you to identify exactly the needs your clients have.
An efficient question :
- generates the interest of your interviewer
- offer a complete and well-developed answer
- is thought-provoking
- fosters creativity and the creation of new possibilities
- is clearly understood by the interrogator
- engenders other questions
- emits underlying assumptions
- has a deep meaning
First of all, you need to understand that 3 categories of questions exist : simple – average – complicated. Those will allow you to gather different types of information, giving you answers with different degrees of complexity. In other words, the more complicated the question is, the more precise the more developed the answer will be. To make it clear, here is a deeper explanation :
- Simple : the answer should be direct, otherwise speaking, yes or no. Let’s take as an exemple music. The question here would be “Did you listen to some music this week ?”-
- Average : this one is slightly more elaborate. This means your question is factual (what, who, when, and so on) and will provide you with complementary information. For instance, you would ask “What type of music do you listen to the most ?”.
- Complicated : this question not only gives you factual data, but also offers you a more personnal outlook. More specifically, you can obtain here more private thoughts, reflecting the insatisfactions the clients could have. For exemple, you can say “How do you decide what genre of music your kids are allowed to listen to ?”.
On the other hand, remember not to use the question form “why ?”. This one is to vague and will lead to a blured answer that you will probably be unable to use during your data analysis.
In addition to that, when structuring your questions, be sure to use the appropriate interrogative words, as the answer can then drastically differ. Although it is important to develop open questions as well, insure that those are not too long and blurred (or the opposite). It means that if a question offers a too broad answer, you might loose the focus on the objective you want. Finally, be assured that your questions are not confusing. If they are unclear, your interlocutor might misunderstand it and perceive it as rude or disrespectful, which is obviously not the objective behind.
Develop correctly the question
To shape the right questions, regarding a defined theme, you need to :
- analyse carefully the situation, and how it will evolve in the future.
- identify the general questions, which will help to head over the right direction at the beginning.
- refine your questions to keep only the most pertinent ones in the current project.
- think long term, so compose questions with answers that will help elaborate strategies for the long run.
- constantly ask yourself questions, as you will then be able to always be on top of your project.
Knowing to ask the right questions is primordial, yet not so impactful without a good capability of listening. When you have developed your questionnaire, be attentive to the answers you get and accept even the most unexpected ones. Give also the time to your interviewer to express themselves (they are the focus of your attention) and carefully take notes of all what is said.
If problems appear from the right beginning of the project, you should consider finding the origin of those. To clarify them, you can use the empirical questioning method .
This approach can be used during collective decision-making, where we need to illustrate each question. The book “faire” clearly explains this process, for exemple when analysing the question “how?”. In that case, to represent a sequence of steps you can use a flowchart.
For this last chapter, we share with you exemples of questions, which might give you some ideas :
- What could happen, that would allow us to create a better synergy and more dynamism at work ?
- What challenges could occur and how could we take them up ?
- What would someone with different opinion and believes think ?
- What is the primary purpose of our company ?