Great Questions - Six Honest Serving Men - A Consultant's Tool

Great Questions – Six Honest Serving Men – A Consultant’s Tool

I was with some good consultants the other week. We were talking to a large prospective client. We were assessing the client’s problem. We asked for some data and they presented the statistics and numbers to us. The client had several Directors and Vice Presidents sit with us around a conference room table as we reviewed the numbers that was being thrown up on the wall from the projector. With the numbers in clear view – we could see – as they could see – several obvious problems.
But the numbers told one story. There is a story behind the story.
We asked questions about some of the obviuos numbers that were showing there were some problems. Then we asked questions about the numbers and how they were captured. Then we asked questions about the effects of the problems on the organization and who this affected. And then in what manner these problem affected the people around the table AND the end users.
It was all very enlightening. But it gave the client and specifically the people around the table, a level of comfort that we knew what we are doing and have “been there done that” just by the questions we asked.

Diagnosing The Problem

If you are a consultant or a great professional working as an employee, your ability to diagnose the client’s true problem is a chief skill you have to develop.
Getting to the root cause of the problem requires you to ask great questions and the ability to listen for “hidden” issues. These hidden issues are typically not identified by the client as a component of the problem. And yet, may be the cause of the problem or – could be affecting other parts of the organization.
You already know that asking great questions is critical to solving the client’s problem. Yet most consultants do not ask questions as well as they think they do.

What Not To Do

Yes, the consultant will ask one or two questions. They hear what the client believes is the problem. And then they stop asking. For some reason, most consultants and for the that matter, sales professionals who sell consulting type services launch into possible solutions. The consultant feels compelled to start telling how they might solve this with their processes and tools.
Now I am not saying that you should not discuss how you would solve this problem, but you may be solving the problem prematurely – that is – without all the facts at your disposal.

Six Honest Serving Men

One of the tools I recommend for any consultant is Rudyard Kipling’s poem called; “I Keep Six Honest Serving Men …” It goes like this . .
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.
Now the poem goes on. But the important fact is the words; What, Why, When, How, Where and Who. If you keep these six words in mind when questioning and when listening to the client you will begin to get a clearer picture of the problem what and who and where and how and when and why of the problem.
Now great questioning skills are much more complex than this. However and this is a really big however, if you are truly able to think while the other person is talking and you are taking down notes, you can apply these six against anything you have captured – like an analytical tool.

An Example or Two

To give you an example. The client says, “This problem of hiring a Project Manager is taking too long.”
You could immediately talk about your Project Managers that are available or how you can recruit for Project Managers and the speed in which you can find them. All because your interpretation of the trigger words “too long.” Your assumption of “too long” triggered something in your mind and this assumption was what was in your mind, was also in the client’s mind.
If you instead asked “Why is it taking so long?” or “What is taking so long?” You may get the response of “My manager does not have the budget approved yet.” This is a totally different problem than one you might be able to solve.
You may get the response “The Project Managers we interviewed do not have the exact software tool experience we need.” You now have another piece of data that you can use. You could follow up with questions as to why the tool is required and/or what is it about this tool that is so unique.
If you follow-up with a question to the client and ask, “How does not having a Project Manager affect the implementation of the solution?”
And of course – you listen to the response.
Now I realize that the example above is pretty basic – but it should give you a good idea of what I am referring to. We will talk more about good questioning skills in later blog posts.
It is important that you start somewhere. And Rudyard Kipling’s Six Honest Serving Men is a great diagnostic tool for you to use and add to your repetoire.
Good Luck!
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