Asking effective questions is undoubtedly one of the most critical skills needed by anyone involved in writing requirements. One-on-one it’s usually called interviewing while group sessions typically involve facilitation. Regardless of the label you apply to it, the simple act of asking a question is actually anything but.Esther Derby wrote an excellent piece that can be found on the AYE site – Building a Requirements Foundation Through Customer Interviews. The article is a helpful primer on the art of the question. Esther certainly nails the crux of the matter when she states up front that “building the right product starts with asking the right questions.” She goes on to describe the different types of questions and the role each can play for Product Managers. Perhaps her most useful piece of advice is the suggestion to have a dedicated scribe assist during interviews and elicitation sessions. At least for me, I know the process of trying to take accurate notes always interferes with the rhythm I want to establish and maintain during a good Q&A session.
Let’s face it, some people are born communicators while others are not. That being said, verbal communication is not purely a gift but rather is yet another skill that can be learned and improved with practice. Understanding the techniques of effective interviewers is the first step and I believe that Esther provides a good starting point here. Beyond that, her suggestion to practice with a co-worker is one I have followed in the past with extremely positive results. Watch out Mike Wallace!