T-SQL Tuesday # 13 – Asking the business good questions


Fatherhood involves more than just having dried food on your shirt. People expect you to do crazy things like wave your arms like a muppet or impart wisdom to the next generation. I don’t know that I have much wisdom but I have had a few moments of clarity that I hope I can pass on to little Zeke and any brothers or sisters he might someday have.

One of those moments of clarity came during Warren Thornthaite’s PASS Summit session on dimensional modelling. He said – and I’m paraphrasing here – don’t ask users what they want, ask them what they do.

It was in reflecting on this that I really latched on to the power of asking good questions. I had been doing this for a while but had not reflected on what it was I was doing.

Soon after starting my current job one of the BAs realized that I could be counted on to discover database problems quickly. He would often call or email vaguely defined issues like “a user says this number doesn’t seem right”. But usually I could get to the root of things quickly. Sometimes I would discover bugs. Sometimes I would discover that the number was accurate based on the inputs and the business rules. The number was just not what the user expected – or perhaps hoped.

After a certain time I spent more and ┬ámore of my time discovering things in the later category and decided that I needed to cut down on the number of false bug reports. I started asking questions of the BA. “How did the user discover the bug? What do they think the number should be and why?” And the BA quickly discovered that as he asked the users these questions many of the bugs disappeared.

There was nothing disrespectful in the way we asked these questions. We knew we could not trust that the user was always right. And we found that asking good questions was a great tool to help us cooperate with the users and help them better understand their data.

Asking good questions also seems to be helpful in all sorts of other situations, too. When I see two co-workers getting frustrated trying to communicate sometimes a good question helps alleviate the problems.

I’d like to say I’ve used this skill a lot in my personal life – with my family, as I try to grow spiritually, etc. But I have to admit this is an area I’m still working on.

I do sort of wonder why there are certain skills that come easily at work but not at home.

Anyway, what are some good questions you ask? What would you like people to ask you?

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3 Responses to T-SQL Tuesday # 13 – Asking the business good questions

  1. edmusesupon says:

    This is an excellent blog entry because forcing people to pass along more informed and clearer information makes processes run far more smoothly. Earlier in my career, I did some testing of software–a proprietary db app–and as I spoke with developers, I realized making sure they had the proper context for issues I raised was critical if we were going to have a productive exchange.

  2. Pingback: Who needs people? | SELECT STUFF FROM SQL

  3. Pingback: T-SQL Tuesday #13 Roundup « Voice of the DBA

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