Sunday, February 24, 2013

Asking questions

It's easy to cruise through life.  When in motion, breaking the flow is hard.

But to get better at what you do, you have to break the flow from time to time.  You have to stop and question whether what you are doing is leading you in the right direction.  It could be that you are missing something that you could be doing.  You may know more about the goal.  Or the goal may have changed along the way.

When I started my career, I thought that working hard meant writing lots of code or finding as many bugs as I could.  If I was doing more, I had to be adding more value, so I thought.  I did not stop and asked whether one more line of code would make our project more successful, or one more known bug would help us ship a higher quality product.  In reality, it's neither the lines of code nor the list of known bugs that create a better product.  They are the steps to the goal.  They are means to an end in implementing a solution for our customers.  Writing more lines of code does not necessarily mean that the product will be ready earlier.  Knowing one more bug does not necessarily mean that customers will find the product quality to be higher.

I made a similar error when I began my product management career.  I thought my job was about adding new features to compete with competitors and win the deals.  I thought that if I was not working on a new feature, then I must not be doing my job.  So I let feature requests from customers and prospects run my day-to-day routine, and thought that I must be doing a good work.

Then I realized that there were other big challenges that I did not think about.  User adoption, feature bloating, documentation, supportability, sales enablement and communication both internally and externally.  They all add up to improving the customer experience, and each of them were as critical to overall success as adding new features.

To ensure our actions make the differences in achieving the goal, we must question whether our actions help us get there.  This is not easy.  Most of everything that we do, we do them without thinking about them.  In fact that's how we get our efficiency.  By eliminating thinking part, we can turn our actions into habit, and it becomes easier for us to do.

Asking questions forces us to step outside of daily routine, and make us face the truth that we did not understand our goal.  Goal might have changed, too, as we know more about what we want.  Therefores, as we gather more information about what we want to achieve, we have to revise our plans.

If you are serious about getting better, you have to ask questions.  Don't be afraid of admitting what you don't know.  There is a good chance that you will have answers for them the next time you stop to ask questions.  But first you have to stop and ask.

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