When you’re right and the question isn’t…


Think back now to elementary school, probably Grade 6. You learned about a guy named Pythagoras who was of course, the inventor of Grade 6 math homework. When the teacher asks the students to “Find X”, they can all do it. Solving for X is a little more complex for a Grade 6’er. (a2+b2=cif you need a reminder) The answer provided to the question in the above picture is not wrong, it is just not the answer the asker of the question wanted.  Clients can ask questions where they clearly understand the question and the context of the question, but the consultant does not. It is however our responsibility to ensure that we fully understood the question our client asked. We do that by asking more questions. (See my blog  post on The Great Questions)

  • Client          Q> Can you build a deployment plan for me?
  • Consultant A>  Yes I sure can!

So was the question really just an interrogatory determining if the consultant has the requisite skills to build a deployment plan?  (perhaps)

Or perhaps it needs some clarification.

  • For which deployment?
  • For what date do you need it?
  • What is the level of granularity (hours, days, weeks, months?)
  • What is the expected level of accuracy?
  • How would you like it resourced?
  • Do you want it conservative or aggressive, what are business objectives for the plan?
  • Best Practice or bespoke?
  • Who is the plan for?
  • What would you like to see included or precluded from the plan? etc.

Issues in the client/consulting relationship can be caused simply by the consultant  not asking enough questions to thoroughly understand the context that is already clear to the client. If you don’t ask enough questions you will occasionally provide a perfectly valid answer to the wrong question. 

So how do you know that you really understand the question?  Understanding is dramatically different than just knowledge. We have all heard pithy appellations like “first seek to understand” but that doesn’t go near far enough. As consultants we must be sure that we understand. What does that mean?

“In order to test one’s understanding it is necessary to present a question that forces the individual to demonstrate the possession of a model, derived from observable examples of that model’s production or potential production (in the case that such a model did not exist beforehand). Rote memorization can present an illusion of understanding, however when other questions are presented with modified attributes within the query, the individual cannot create a solution due to a lack of a deeper representation of reality.” – Rostislav Persion

So to summarize… demonstrate observable examples and who better to judge than the client themselves.

So what I hear you would like is a granular (say to the day level) deployment plan for the ESB project delivered by monday that shows both external and your resources in the plan. It should be based on industry best practices but perhaps tempered a bit on task estimates to be achievable without being taxing and within a 30% accuracy at draft.  You want every material step included.  It should be in MS Project and  powerpoint summary for your review and we should do a walk-through on Tuesday. Is that about right?”

Find X. Make sure you understand the question.

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2 Responses to When you’re right and the question isn’t…

  1. Pingback: Infinite Shades of Grey – A year later and a little greyer | Infinite Shades of Grey

  2. Pingback: The perfect consultant – The Ambivert? | Infinite Shades of Grey

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