An introduction to
Jean McKay
PuttyCove, Inc.
High Cost of Doing Nothing
4/18/2012
About Jean McKay,
PMP, PMRMP, MSCIS

Jean is an experienced professional with a
proven track record over 20 years.

She currently holds numerous professional
certifications in both Project Management
and IT, focuses on Disaster Recovery
Planning, Business Continuity Planning, Risk
Assessment, and Technical Training.

Jean is a certified Project Management
Professional (PMP)®, and Risk Management
Professional PMP-RMP, with a Master of
Science in Computer Information Systems.

Jean currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona,
and is an active member of the PMI Phoenix
Chapter, BPW, and Infragard.
Background for this work

Fifteen years of development at Stanford
University

Observations or interviews with 225 executives

25 longitudinal studies of executives

In 2007, 55 formal interviews in 9 industries

In-depth study of PQ+A in two global companies
• Cypress Semiconductor, 1996 to 2004
• Microsoft, 1995 to 2004
-3-
Four deep trends

Information overload

Higher levels of complexity

Complexity is dynamic

Increased time crunch
The pressure to
improve discussion
Time 
The efficiency of typical
business meetings
-4-
Two factors

Two factors make it difficult to manage
complexity and overload in meetings

Answers that destroy focus

Questions that lack focus
-5-
When answers lack focus

Not clear

Not crisp

Not concise
-6-
What’s going wrong?

She asks a precise question
• “What are the unit sales for the urban and suburban
segments?”

He hears a generic question
• “Give me an update.”

He believes he’s helping the discussion by
providing “valuable context”
-7-
Precision Answering solves the problem

The basics of PA
• Answer the question that was asked
• Start with the core
• Keep it short

The benefits of PA
• Better focus
• Greater efficiency
-8-
When questions lack focus

Low efficiency

No depth
-9-
What’s going wrong?

We shouldn’t be asking this:
• What do the lines show us?

If the question in our mind is this:
• At the end of the quarter, what was the rate at which
sales were decreasing?
• Is the rate of decrease slowing down or speeding up?
- 10 -
Precision Questioning solves the problem

The basics of PQ
• Be precise
• Get to the heart of the matter

The benefits of PQ
• Greater efficiency
• Better analysis
- 11 -
Precision Questioning
Drill-down questions fall into seven categories
- 13 -
The seven categories
Our customers
are spending more
time on social
networking sites.
- 14 -
The seven categories
Our business needs to
start doing better
security of our data.
- 15 -
Let’s Practice

We will use your issue
to practice the
categories
one at a time

Real PQ is
more fluid
- 16 -
Practice: Write down an issue like one or the
other of these
___ is taking more ___
[time, resources, etc.]
than expected.

Use a real issue from
your work

Write legibly
___ is more complex
than expected.
- 17 -
Instructions for two-minute drills


Find a partner to practice with.
Decide roles
• One person presents issue & answers questions
• Other person asks questions

Don’t change roles until instructed to

These are practice drills for the questioner; this
will not be a fluid discussion. Real PQ is
more fluid than this.
• Answers should be short, honest, and realistic

Please wait to begin
- 18 -
Establish the big picture

2 minute limit
Presenter starts
• Show partner the written statement
• Give an overview of your issue (about 30 seconds)

Then questioner asks
• Ask questions that help you understand the big picture
(about 60 seconds)
• Big picture questions are mostly clarifications so you
understand the topic
• Do not worry about the categories for now
• 2 minute limit
- 19 -
Go/NoGo questions guide energy and focus

Setting up a good meeting
•
•
•
•

Who should participate?
Goal?
How much time?
Who should tee up the issue?
Shaping the direction once the meeting begins
• Are we focused on the right thing?
• Are we asking the right questions?
• Should we take this off-line?
- 20 -
Reminder: these are not Go/NoGo questions

How do you track resources?

What do you mean by “complex?”

What seems to be causing it?

For now – focus only one Go/No Go questions
- 21 -
Examples of Go/NoGo questions

OK
• Who should attend?

Better
• Who knows more about this, Ellen or Bill?

OK
• What would be the goal of the meeting?

Better
• Is a half-hour enough time to both review the data and
figure out the underlying causes of the problem?
- 22 -
Practice Go/NoGo questions
2 minute limit
___ is taking more ___
[time, resources, etc.]
than expected.

Ask questions that
would help them set up
a real meeting to
discuss this issue
___ is more complex
than expected.
- 23 -
Clarification questions sharpen the meaning

By “clarification” we mean clarification of the
meaning of words and sentences

Three main types of clarification
• Clarifying slippery words
• Asking graph questions
• Asking pivot table questions
- 24 -
Clarification of slippery words


A “slippery” word means one thing to one person
and something different
to another person
OK
• What do you mean
by “complex”?

The project
has become more
complex than we
expected.
Better
• Complex in what ways?
• Do you mean complex with respect to number of parts?
• Complex with respect to number of dependencies?
- 25 -
Reminder: these are not clarification
questions

Do you have data on your use of resources?

What seems to be causing it?

If you don’t change anything, what would be the
consequences?

For now – focus on Clarifying slippery word
questions
- 26 -
Practice clarifying slippery words 2 minute limit
___ is taking more ___
[time, resources, etc.]
than expected.

Clarify words that might
mean something
different to the presenter
than to you.
___ is more complex
than expected.
- 27 -
Clarification through graph questions
The project
is taking more time
than expected.

“Draw the graph” with questions
• When did the schedule first slip?
• How far have you fallen behind the original projections?
• Are you losing ground or gaining ground?
- 28 -
Clarification through pivot table questions

Pivot table questioning
Improving morale is
turning out to be more
difficult than we
expected.
• Picture the parts
• Question the parts

Examples
• Show it to me by ___ (gender, age, location).
• Where has morale been the most difficult to improve?
• Where has morale been easiest to improve?
- 29 -
Practice graph/pivot table clarification 2 minute limit
___ is taking more ___
[time, resources, etc.]
than expected.

Graph questions

Pivot table questions
___ is more complex
than expected.
- 30 -
Assumption questions go deep

An assumption is something that must be true in
order for the statement to be true

The difficulty: assumptions are in what is not said

Useful tip: phrase your questions this way
• Are you assuming…?
• Are you assuming…?
- 31 -
Common categories of assumptions
“I’m looking for the solution to the problem of…”

Existence
• Are you assuming a problem exists?

Uniqueness
• Are you assuming there’s only one problem?

Measurement
• Are you assuming you can measure improvement?

Value
• Are you assuming it’s bad?

Time, Constancy
• Are you assuming the problem isn’t changing over time?
- 32 -
Practice assumption questions
2 minute limit
___ is taking more ___
[time, resources, etc.]
than expected.

Are you assuming...?

Are you assuming...?

Are you assuming...?
___ is more complex
than expected.
- 33 -
BCQs ask for evidence

Two main types of BCQs
• Questions about the validity of the data
• Questions about the credibility of the sources of
information
- 34 -
BCQ: questions about the validity of DATA

Not
• How do you know that’s true?

OK
• What’s the data?

Better
•
•
•
•
How complete is the data?
How accurate is the data?
Is the sample representative of the population?
Is the sample large enough?
- 35 -
Practice DATA questions
2 minute limit
___ is taking more ___
[time, resources, etc.]
than expected.

Ask questions about
the validity of their data
___ is more complex
than expected.
- 36 -
BCQ: questions about the credibility of the
SOURCES of information

OK
• Where did you hear this?

Better
• Did you hear it from somebody who was on the project
at the beginning?
• Do you have 100% confidence in what they are telling
you?
• Should you check with other people who were on the
project at the beginning?
- 37 -
Practice SOURCE questions
2 minute limit
___ is taking more ___
[time, resources, etc.]
than expected.

Ask questions about
the credibility of their
sources of information
___ is more complex
than expected.
- 38 -
Establish the big picture – switch roles 2 minute limit

New presenter
• Show your written statement
(about 30 seconds)

New questioner
• Ask questions that help you understand the big picture
(about 60 seconds)
• Big picture questions are mostly clarifications
• Don’t worry about categories, this is so you understand
the topic
- 39 -
BCQs ask for evidence

Two main types of BCQs
• Questions about the validity of the data
• Questions about the credibility of the sources of
information
- 40 -
Practice BCQs – DATA and/or SOURCE
2 minute limit
___ is taking more ___
[time, resources, etc.]
than expected.

Ask about validity
of data

Ask about credibility of
sources of information
___ is more complex
than expected.
- 41 -
Cause Questions
Questions about causes help us control
 Here are five precise why’s

•
•
•
•
•
What triggered this (an event)?
Is there a root cause (a condition of vulnerability)?
What is the mechanism (how does it work)?
What are the drivers (pushes)?
What are the inhibitors (pulls)?
- 42 -
Cause questions

OK
• Why were our initial expectations so unrealistic?

Better
• Was the root cause that fact that this was a different
type of problem than we have seen in the past?

OK
• Why is it becoming more complex?

Better
• What are the main drivers of complexity?
- 43 -
Practice cause questions
2 minute limit
___ is taking more ___
[time, resources, etc.]
than expected.

Root cause? Trigger?

Drivers? Inhibitors?

Mechanism?
___ is more complex
than expected.
- 44 -
Questions about Effects help us predict

When thinking about the future, we tend to
oversimplify

This 3x3 matrix helps us be more precise
Best case
Worst case
Most likely
Short term
Medium term
Long term
- 45 -
Effects questions

OK
• How long will it take?

Better
• Worst case, how long will it take?

OK
• What will be the result?

Better
• What will the long-term consequences be?
- 46 -
Practice effect questions 2 minute limit
___ is taking more ___
[time, resources, etc.]
than expected.

Ask questions like this:
• Suppose you don’t
change anything.
In the ___ term, what’s
the ___ case for ___?
___ is more complex
than expected.
- 47 -
Questions about Action

There are many more options than “what should
we do about it?”
•
•
•
•
What is our strategy?
What tactics will we use to enact our strategy?
What is our plan for the coming week?
Is our goal a root cause fix? Or is it just containment?
- 48 -
Practice action questions
2 minute limit
___ is taking more ___
[time, resources, etc.]
than expected.

Ask questions like these:
• Can you do a root-cause
fix on this?
• Should you just try to
contain it?
___ is more complex
than expected.
- 49 -
Benefit of PQ

What is the benefit of making our questions more
precise?
• It helps us analyze our work in new ways
• Our meetings become more efficient
• The level of critical thinking goes up
- 50 -
Tools, not rules
- 51 -
Precision Answering
- 52 -
PQ can’t get very far without PA
• In the first video, Jordy does not hear the Precise
Question
• He hears, ‘Tell me a story’
- 53 -
Precision Answering solves the problem
The basics of Precision Answering
• Answer the question that was asked
• Start with the core
• Keep it short
- 11 -
Focus on Precision Answering

PA:
Conveying only the important information in a
crisp, clear, and concise way
- 86 -
Three basic rules of PA

Answer only the question that was asked

Start with the core

Keep it short
- 87 -
Three basic rules of PA – Rule #1

Answer only the question that was asked
• Don’t answer the question you wanted
them to ask
• Don’t answer the question you think they should
have asked
• Make sure you heard the question
• If the question isn’t clear to you, clarify
- 88 -
Three basic rules of PA – Rule #2

Start with the core
• Core answers go right to the point

Common core answers
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Yes
No
Number
Date
Single point
Bullet points
I don’t know + next step
- 89 -
Three basic rules of PA – Rule #3

Keep it short
• Many times the core answer will suffice
• At most, add one or two additional points
• When adding necessary information, use bullet points
when possible
 There are three top concerns . . .
 We have two options . . .
- 90 -
Additional options

Clarify the question

Redirect the questioner

Add qualifiers

Do a torpedo alert

Anticipate the next question, only when obvious

Keep the discussion moving forward
- 91 -
Find the precise answer

Q: What’s the status of the project?

A: Well I made the phone calls to our customers
that you asked me to. I think people were in
general pretty positive, though ABC Retailer
had some concerns about the timing, but I
think we can work around their schedule by
doing a phased implementation of the plan.
The rest of our customers are fine with
the schedule, so I think we should be on
schedule to deploy next month, with again
the exception of ABC Retailer which will
deploy the system in the next two months.
- 92 -
Core answer plus information
Find the precise answer

Q: Why did the schedule slip?

A: I want to say that we have been working very
hard to make the schedule, but as you know the
schedule is very aggressive and we are working
on a new system, so we are doing our best.
We have been having some problems integrating
the new system with the manufacturing process.
We are not sure, but we think it has something to
do with an incompatibility between the new
system design that used an XYZ process and our
manufacturing design that used the old ZYX
process, but at this point it is just a guess.
- 93 -
Single point answer plus I don’t know
Practice Precision Questions & Answers



Visit www.vervago.com
Skill Sharpeners that build skills
The PQ+A 1 day Workshop
• Teaches four things:
 PQ
 PA
 plus two additional techniques
• Workshop creates high impact three ways:
 Focuses on real issues
 How to make practical application
 Post-workshop emails to deepen the learning
- 65 -
Thank You !







Questions? Contact me!
Email: [email protected]
Call: 623.210.7312
Website: www.puttycove.com
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jeanmckay
www.vervago.com
Ask better questions and give better answers
- 66 -
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