Asking your clients more questions

This one is a personal habit – I’m not entirely sure if it scales up – but it tends to help me a lot. Feel free to rebut.

I often see client requests bungled because of lack of clear feedback. Occasionally, it’s much worse – a small but critical element is assumed or omitted very early in the relationship, and the entire project can be at risk if that small element cascades out to bloated budgets, and missed delivery dates. All because someone assumed something early on.

With all due respect to ‘divide-and-conquer’ benefits of good project management – you are more likely to cause harm by assuming knowledge on behalf of your client. Instead, allow extra time to front-load that project, and risk sounding pedantic – but ask that one extra question, clarify that one extra thing. Whether you’re a PM or the developer or the account lead.

Think of it this way – this project (or client) is trying to get something accomplished, perhaps wants to solve a specific business problem. It’s possible that the assumptions are present on the other end too – and are causing skewed expectations. Maybe even causing skewed definition of the project. So ask more questions – what’s the harm?

At worst – you’ll have your assumptions repeated and confirmed – and at best – you’ll discover that indeed the client meant one thing, and communicated something else, and you wrote down something else entirely. Or worse – the client assumed the way to fix the business problem was this solution, and asked for it. Instead, you know of a different solution that will address the problem better. And voila – with more answers, you’re able to steer the conversation towards solving a business problem, and not merely executing a task, or running a project.

This front-loading doesn’t scale well in bigger organizations where the process and allocation or resources has greater value than results or learned insights. In fact, when there’s too much process – these small assumptions can get inflated rather quickly, and derail original intent faster. But in my line of work, and at the core of any technology-driven project – asking more questions early on helps both sides, and keeps projects lean, and client relationships – more valuable.


And as for additional reading – how about this self-congratulatory, and a curiously misguided “American Dream in Canada” (via @Macleans); or this brief history of conversational AI, and how quickly we’re all embracing it – “Technology Imitates Art” (via @Typeform); or these announcements of Mozilla buying Pocket (via @Mozilla), and Wattpad releasing interactive reading app – Tap (via @Techcrunch)- to make all your additional reading even more exciting and immersive? Although, I have to ask – at this point – is it still immersive and convenient reading, or are we mass consuming it like junkfood?

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