I’m working with a client who says he wants to “work smarter with the existing technology.” Eventually, the discussion got down to how much a solution would cost, start to finish. I said, quite honestly, that solution costs were irrelevant. The important thing is, how expensive is the question? Answering “how expensive is that question?” can become very involved and very costly in and of itself.
Think of all the big, expensive things humankind has made throughout history, from the pyramids to Nimitz Class aircraft carriers to the Daniel Johnson Dam in Manicouagan, Canada.
Now think of these things as answers to questions.
My goodness, those must have been some incredibly important questions to have answers that big.
Some questions require very big answers. For example, “Nimitz Class aircraft carriers” might have been the answer to the question, “How can the United States protect its economic and political interests worldwide?” “The Daniel Johnson Dam” is an answer to something like, “How can Quebec provide power to its growing population?” Pyramids are answers to questions like “How important are we? How important are our leaders? What is our place in the universe?” The general rule is “The bigger the question, the bigger the answer.”
Business Questions Require Smart Answers
Think about my client’s question, “How can we work smarter with the existing technology?” Consider everything that’s involved in answering it and you might appreciate that it’s a very big question. There were much smaller questions, far less expensive questions, that could be asked instead.
- “What does ‘work smarter’ mean?”
- “Is it possible to ‘work smarter’ with the existing technology?”
- “What is it, exactly, about the existing technology that’s stopping us from working smarter?”
- “Are there ways to improve the existing technology so that people inherently work smarter with it?”
- “Are there political reasons that are stopping us from working smarter that can be solved without modifying the existing technology?”
The list, while not endless, is pretty long — almost endless. Experienced businesspeople know all those questions are encompassed in “How can we work smarter with the existing technology?” No wonder the original question is so expensive!
Reducing the Cost of a Question Several Thousand Dollars
The goal needs to be spending a little bit of time and a little bit of money to understand a question’s true cost. Smaller, more easily answered questions are less expensive and often reveal elements of the big question that don’t need to be asked. The end result is reduced cost. I call this “Making Molehills Out of Mountains” and it’s basic project management applied to the discovery phase of organizational decision making.
It’s easy to do but it does require some in-house time. I tell clients that they can either spend the money in-house (and gain a lot of experience and understanding of their management and employees) or spend it by calling in outside consultants that will cost more and not provide the experience and understanding elements so necessary to running businesses these days.
I suggest to clients and share in presentations that the question you’re asking may not supply the answer you need. Businesses can save big-time with the following simple exercise.
The next time you need to answer a question, have an open discussion with all the stakeholders and catalog all the little questions that make up the big question. It’s a worthwhile exercise, and it won’t take very long.