The importance of asking stupid questions

When you start a new job you get some leeway in asking questions about why the business does certain things, because you’re the newbie who doesn’t know anything yet. It means you can ask about anything and the person you’re asking shouldn’t think you’re an idiot who doesn’t know what they’re doing, because you’re a newbie who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

• Why do we call the widget the ‘series B widget’, when there hasn’t been a ‘series A widget’ for over sixty years and none of our customers have any idea what it means?

• Why do we always email a status report to reports@ourcompany.com every Friday, because I’ve not seen anyone who ever checks this or asks any questions about it?

• Why do we insist our customers email us at different product email addresses, when they all get directed to Jane in sales?

However, after a period of time we get into the pattern of not asking the simple questions because we transition from not knowing to knowing, and once you’re supposed to know things you stop asking the simple straightforward questions because you might get thought of as not really understanding what your job is.

But it’s these questions that will help your business make improvements over time so you shouldn’t stop asking them. Isn’t it better to ask why to understand whether the reason still exists for doing what is being asked about?

• Maybe we don’t need to call it a ‘series B widget’ and actually all our customers call it ‘the power widget’ which sounds so much better when you’re trying to sell it

• Maybe we don’t need to complete the status report every week because Phil who used to check the reports has now left and we can all benefit from an extra one hour a week by not completing the report

• Maybe we can create a catch all email address to simplify a process and cut down on things to administer

We all get into habits in our work, but it’s important to stop and question why on even the most basic of things, because you never know where the question might lead you.

It’s the same principle as watching your customers use your products, because they’ll do so with different eyes to you and your team of experts. It’s the same principle as having external consultants come into the business and looking through your processes to find areas for improvement, or having non-experts join an advisory board so they can ask the questions like a layman.

• Why do we schedule our full company meetings on a Friday when we know that 30% of the team work at home on Fridays?

• Why do we continue to attend the retail show in Paris when we know we’re not looking to expand in Europe this year?

• Why do we make everyone work in the office all the time when we’re pushed for desk space and most people have the ability to work remotely?

Start asking yourself the questions and do so regularly, and you’ll find yourself making incremental improvements across all areas of your business and even your own productivity.

Written by

Helping people kick start their product management career at gettingstartedinproduct.com * Product person at Watchfinder

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