How powerful questions create purpose in product management

Emergn - How powerful questions create purpose - group of people and one has hand raised to ask a question

Great questions create energy. They can galvanise a team. If we crafted, they create a compelling direction and help marshal resources, attract investment and encourage talent to work on your ideas. They help capture the imagination and create excitement. In short, they create purpose.

I’ve heard it said that Leaders of the past feel they had to know all the answers. But, Leaders of the future will know how to ask the best questions.

Another disruption in retail?

Amazon has launched Amazon Go.

They’re only started with one store. It seems, technologically, very advanced. It might be disruptive. However, it looks like Amazon are continuing the march to take the friction out of all shopping experiences. It’s another attempt at the relentless simplification from a customer’s perspective.

It is too early to know if this will truly change the way people shop and interact for good. We don’t know if it will heap more pressure on the more traditional retailers.  And it’s still unclear if customers will see it as a game-changer. However, what is clear is that for a number years Amazon have been working on a powerful question exploring ways to dramatically change the way people interact with a shop.

Using powerful questions to frame the challenge

What really stood out for me were the opening lines in the video and one passage on the frequently asked questions page (I’ve added these in bold):

We asked ourselves: what if we could create a shopping experience with no lines and no checkout?

What would shopping look like if you could walk into a store, grab what you want and walk out again?

What if we could weave the most advanced technology into the shopping experience?

They’ve spent four years designing and implementing solutions within this problem space.

The format of a great question

How might we?’ is a powerful question used by many designers. Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, explains the three words and why they encourage a creative approach to problem-solving. A quick explanation on why the words work:

‘How’ assumes that solutions exist and provides the creative confidence needed to identify and solve for unmet needs.

‘Might’ says that we can put ideas out there that might work or might not – either way, we’ll learn something useful.

‘We’ signals that we’re going to collaborate and build on each other’s ideas to find creative solutions together.

When confronting any design challenge or coming up with potential solutions, or ideas to solve problems, asking this question can set the tone of a discussion and lead to divergent thoughts and suggestions around the problem. As you work with your team during a product development process, remember this question. It is surprisingly powerful to help you unstick the creative and collaborative talents within your teams.

Coupling ‘How might we’ with the question ‘What if?’ spurs on even more creativity. What if helps free your mind from the shackles of your current situation. It engages your imagination. Which in turn increases creativity, vision and innovation.

The combination of these two questions can create disruption. They certainly help define purpose.

Learn by doing

A challenge many enterprises have is that they’re so focused on delivering requirements that they don’t leave space to answer the bigger questions. This means, outside of R&D departments and Innovation Labs, most people inside larger organizations don’t have the time to discover and explore ideas.

If you’re a team leader, product manager or owner, or anyone else who leads people or teams, try framing your next big problem with a powerful question.

Going further, if you have influence over budgets or investments instead of signing-off on the next business case solution that explains in minute detail how you’re definitely going to solve a business opportunity, ask yourself two questions:

  1. What powerful question does this solution answer?
  2. And, does it give people time and space to design a compelling and innovative solution?

Don’t just try once though – keep doing it. You’ll be amazed at how people respond differently.

If you need help crafting powerful questions or creating compelling Value Propositions take a look at our VFQ Product Management Pathway.