Ask the Right Questions to Improve Your Business
You don’t want answers, you want the right answers. To get the right answers you will need to find and ask the right questions.
When I was a child, my father worked for Toyota and was involved in the implementation of their Kaizen principles in the U.S. This involvement led to my early introduction to the “5 Whys” developed by Sakichi Toyoda (founder of Toyota Industries) as they formed a foundation for explanations on the importance of asking questions.
The top-level summary is that if you want to fix problems, you need to keep asking why when you get an answer so that you can find the problem’s root cause and fix it instead of focusing on fixing things that are really just symptoms.
The process is similar when using questions to improve your business planning. You identify an issue or pick a goal or plan to focus on, you ask questions about it, and use the answers that you find to ask more questions until you have a strong (or at least stronger) understanding of what is going on.
While you are asking the questions, try to make some record of your answers – this can help you analyze them and find trends or even possibilities you might not otherwise be aware of. It’s also good to make a note of the questions where you don’t know the answers. Some of them may turn out to be unimportant, but others could end up showing you where you are missing key information.
Once you do have an answer, ask a few more questions about the answer. Why do you prefer that service provider? What does the data mean? Who else may have information you need? But remember it is a balancing act – there will be a point where you will need to move forward with things. It can be tempting to use question asking as a way to avoid taking action when the time comes.
Experience can help you judge when you should be asking more questions when you should be taking action and when you should be doing a combination of both.
As far as which questions you should be asking, the answer is it depends, but I like to divide them up based on the question words – who, what, where, why, when and how. If you’re not sure where to start, I think that “what” and “why” can be good choices, but don’t forget about the others! Think about the questions you can ask using each of the questions and decide which questions are the right ones for your situation. I will warn you now that sometimes the answers will be inconvenient or uncomfortable.
Now to help jump start your question asking, here are some suggestions for questions you can ask using each of the question words.
Who questions are about identifying people and organizations who are involved in the circumstances being planned for, goals being set, process being developed, etc. Think about the people who may be involved and start from there.
Who questions to ask include:
- Who makes the decision?
- Who has information regarding the situation?
- Who influences the decision?
- Who does the situation effect?
What questions help to identify the things and ideas that are part of a situation. Things involved can be physical objects (such as supplies or inventory to be created) or more abstract concepts like services to be rendered or ideas and concepts to be considered or implemented. What questions to ask include:
- What do you want?
- What do you need?
- What is the desired outcome?
Where questions identify locations. Locations include physical and virtual locations. Where questions to ask include:
- Where is work to be done?
- Where are products to be delivered?
- Where are workers located?
- Where in the document (or on the internet) can we find the needed information?
When questions are about time. You need to think about time as both a resource and a potential constraint. When questions to ask include:
- When should this be started?
- When is this needed?
- When will this become urgent?
Why questions are about the reasons behind a situation. Asking why can lead to finding the root cause of problems or the ultimate reasoning behind business decisions. Why questions to ask include:
- Why did this happen?
- Why is this useful?
- Why do is this needed?
- Why did I get that answer?
How questions are about procedures behind answers and determining the chain of events behind a current or proposed situation. How questions to ask include:
- How can we solve this problem?
- How should this be accomplished?
- How much should this cost?
These questions are just a suggestion to get you jumpstarted in your career as a question-asking entrepreneur, so don’t be afraid to add your own questions – I encourage it. Finding the right questions and asking them can help you understand more about your business and develop knowledge and wisdom.