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Ask These 3 Questions BEFORE Designing a Client Solution April 18, 2023

by Peter Martini

In our role as government contractors, clients rely on us for solutions that come from extensive expertise and experience – and from a deep understanding of each client’s needs.

It is tempting to hear a problem statement and immediately offer solutions. While this may lead to quick approval and an expeditious project start, it runs a two-fold risk:

  • We may not truly understand the problem, leading to work that is not fully beneficial.
  • We may miss the chance to help advance client knowledge, skills and outcomes.

Don’t assume you know what others are saying.

Three Questions to Ask

Here is a three-part approach to help avoid these pitfalls:

1. Clarify what is being said. All too often, our language is imprecise or has meanings specific to a particular field, organizational culture or personal experience base. Be sure you understand the terms being used. Don’t assume you know what others are saying.

Ask: What do you mean by that?

2. Probe for assumptions. Most of us are not aware of our own presuppositions. When discussing a challenge or need, clients (and contractors) may include unstated assumptions. Or someone will start a discussion without clarifying context. Expect that there are unstated assumptions to be explored.

Ask: How did you come to that conclusion?

3. Confirm the intended outcome. A statement of output is not the same as the intended outcome or impact. While we are accountable for deliverable output, our value-add comes in appreciating the desired outcome and impact. Only then can we direct clients toward solutions that maximize the likelihood of achieving them.

Ask: What is the purpose?

Here’s a riddle that is full of hidden definitions and unstated assumptions – and will potentially lead to frustrated outcomes: A proud homeowner of a brand new home walks into a hardware store. She can buy 6 for $6, 12 for $12, or 24 for $12. What is she buying? If you were a clerk in that store, how would you assist her?

(Hint: What information do most homeowners repeat three times in front of their homes?)

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