In previous posts, I’ve covered the importance of preparing questions in advance of research and listening for answers to lead to creativity and idea generation. To follow on to this line of conversation, this post outlines the basic nine categories of questions.
I’ve played around with this list over the years as I’ve found it’s convenient to at least have the categories in advance. I use the analogy of being someone who builds houses. For each building project, I want to get started on building the house. Not to re-build my tools each time.
This list serves the same purpose. Use this list of categories to focus brainstorming your questions. Also, this list isn’t meant to be definitive, but it’s a good place for teams to start. Please adapt, expand and add other areas to fit a particular situation or client. It probably goes without saying, but depending upon the organisation or the topic, you may need to sign a non-disclosure agreement to get the information you need.
(Note: More recently I’ve discovered this is a good list when you’re outlining your questions for negotiations.
How To Use This List
Begin by brainstorming all possible questions in each area. For more complex situations, develop questions in each area by listing what …
- Information you know for sure
- Assumptions do you have (or what you think you know), and
- Things you don’t have
After you have plenty of questions in each group, finish by using R-O-P-E.
- Remove any question that doesn’t make sense in context with the others.
- Organise similar questions together.
- Prioritise the questions. What are ‘must haves’ versus ‘nice to know’?
- Evaluate the questions one last time to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
One last piece of advice, divide the questions among team members so one person isn’t doing all the work.
Group 1. Background, or Facts of Establishment
Ask questions about the company or organisation. • Products, services or offerings • Industry or category • Intellectual property • Network: associations, organizations, groups, individuals • Proprietary methodologies, steps or phases • Vision and mission
Group 2: Outcome and Impact
Ask questions about the business metrics • Objectives or goals of the project or assignment • Consequences or benefits of a successful outcome • Milestones or phases along the way to be recognised • Impact to the organisation, internally and externally • Impact to the industry or category, internally and externally • Project success criteria • Measurement and evaluation
Group 3: Environment
Ask questions about the wider perspective, outside of the company or organisation • Economic environment • Societal environment • The history, as well as the present state of affairs • Trends or forecasting which may influence future decisions • Any previous ideas, strategies or campaigns
Group 4: Competition
Ask questions about competitors • Direct or indirect • Real or perceived • Other products, choices • Competitors increasing or decreasing in strength, and why • Anything or anyone who competes for attention in the same category or mindset
Group 5: Issues and Barriers
Ask questions about the problems • Obstacles, issues or barriers that are standing in way of success • Perceptual issues – ones the audience thinks are issues by in truth, are not • Communications issues • Logistical, organisational or operational issues • Probable causes for each issue • Best (or past) methods to address each issue
Group 6: Opportunities and Drivers
Ask questions about opportunities • Drivers, assets to leverage • Points of differentiation • Unique selling propositions • Any ‘good news’
Group 7: Audiences
Ask questions about the people you’re trying to reach • Primary target audience • Secondary audiences who influences the primary audience • Media influences, traditional and digital • Current or desired perceptions of any or all audiences
Group 8: Logistics and Operations
Ask questions about the details • Budget • Time frame • Processes (approval processes, communications processes) • Resources • Internal staff, consultants, agencies of record
Group 9: Internal Agenda
Ask questions about the the decision-making progress • Organisational or cultural style or tone, corporate vocabulary • Potential internal politics • Other departments or units which need to be informed or updated