I’ve said this before, and will probably mention it again in every post; IT and computing is a lot about people. Yes really. And, one of the things that people can do very well is communicate in natural language, one-to-one or in groups, face-to-face or via some sort of technology (phone/video). The highly evolved skills of talking and actively listening are part of what separates us from the machines – or at least it does for now!
One of the things that IT practitioners do a lot of is ask questions, not just Business Analysts, but also Project Managers, developers, in fact anyone who needs to gather information essentially uses the same type of questions. Whether journalists, police, teachers (lesson planning/construction), or information workers, we make use of the interrogatives – Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.
These questions have a long history; from the ancient Greeks and the art of rhetoric, to Rudyard Kipling ‘Just So’ stories, to the present day where they have been adopted by Management and IT Consultants.
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.…
So begins “The Elephant’s Child” – an odd little tale about the pros and cons of being curious. However, there are problems with the so-called Kipling Method if applied on its own or too rigorously.
(1) It can appear too aggressive and doctrinaire.
(2) It assumes everything is known, and can easily be answered definitively and factually. Unfortunately real life doesn’t work that way.
(3) It does not take into account the context of the questions. Who is asking the questions, why are they asking the questions, and to what end/purpose? For example, reportage – looking for an eye-catching headline – is not the same as establishing what a witness to a crime may have seen.
(4) It is not nuanced. There may be different valid answers, opinions, or value judgments depending on who is being asked. The answers may also be incomplete, contradictory and vague.
(5) The ‘why’ question is particular troublesome for all the reasons listed above. But it can also become annoying in the hands of a precocious child or questioner with a lack of variety or insight. Why, why, why, why, ad nauseam…
All five of these potential problems must be considered when trying to understand what a business (using techniques such as domain or business modelling) or an IT system does (current situation analysis), or what the future should or could look like (requirements analysis or systems analysis).
A word of warning though, a good questioner should go beyond the simple interrogatives and closed questions. They should use a mixture of question types to open out topics, use active listening to guide the conversation, probe more deeply where necessary (funneling), and help the questionee feel comfortable telling their story using a mixture of other tools and techniques.
It is important to retain these basic interrogatives as invaluable servants rather than let them become the masters of your craft!
As always thank you for your feedback and comments here.
(c) 2015 Antony Lawrence CBA Ltd.