7 Categories of precision questions
All methods of effective communication require clarity, open dialogue, accurate information and showing respect for others. PQ/PA is a carefully developed system for drilling into a subject to discover critical facts too often missed in the decision-making process.
The story goes that Microsoft required PQ/PA training for all its executives after Bill Gates found his staff was often unprepared to answer many of his questions, both one-on-one and at meetings. It proved so valuable that management subsequently disseminated it throughout the corporation to improve outcomes in other scenarios characterized by complexity and a need for precise, accurate interchange.
Underpinning Values PA/QA can only work if leaders themselves model candor, courage, thorough preparation, analytical skill and a commitment to pursuing all relevant facts. While a qualified–“This is the best answer I have now based on available information” is OK, glossing over information gaps is not.
Categories of precision questions
There are seven types of questions in this system. Within each category, there is a wide array of possible inquiries. Participants begin by asking high-level question and drill down, as needed, to test credibility, uncover an assumption, or gain information.
- Go/No-Go questions begin with asking whether investigating an issue/launching a project should be initiated or dropped. If a ‘go,’ follow up inquiries would define the ‘big picture,’ long-term objectives, an agenda, future participants, and ground rules.
- Clarification questions help avoid ambiguity, as in “Do you mean__or___?”; nailing down when/where/frequency; requesting examples, e.g., range of uses; requesting graphs and other mathematically-based information; and paraphrasing to ensure understanding.
- Assumption questions explore the validity of basic facts/issues. This includes categorizing, making comparisons with an eye to subtle distinctions, defining applicable/target audience(s) and the current and likely future likelihood of change.
- Basic Critical questions address the quality (reliability and validity) of data, triangulation and other confirming/disconfirming methodologies, the credibility of subject matter experts and the cost effectiveness of new, in-depth research.
- Cause questions encompass triggering factors and their context, root cause analysis, defining drivers and inhibitors, feedback loops and optimal intervention points.
- Effects questions help define likely short and long term outcomes; impact in stakeholders; alternative outcome scenarios; statistical probability of excellent to poor outcomes; and possible unintended consequences.
- Action questions identify what needs to be implemented to fix root causes; who will be assigned responsibility for different aspects of implementation; timelines; budget; and how action(s) may impact long-term business interests.
In the final installment on PQ/PA, I’ll provide an overview of guidelines for providing precision answers to questions.