Answer questions before they’re asked

201512-question-PA281186My boss asked me to build a revenue forecast recently. He gave me a rough idea of what he wanted. I was free to fill in the blanks as I pleased.

I had some important decisions to make:

  • What methodology did I want to use for the forecast?
  • What parameters would I include?
  • How detailed did I want the forecast to be?

My boss knew what he wanted to see…what the forecast would look like, what elements it would include. But I designed the algorithmic nuts and bolts.

Once I built the model, I sent it to him via an email and invited him to discuss it. But rather than just attach the model to a blank email, I briefly described the important decisions I made.

Why did I do that? Why did I bother to add a few notes to the email, knowing he and I would sit down to discuss it in person within a day or so?

Because I knew what questions he would have the moment he opened the model. He had already described to me what he expected to see. But he didn’t say anything about the mechanics.

I wanted to give him some high-level notes, so the moment he opened the model to skim it, he could orient himself. My email to him had five bullets, with notes on five elements of the model:

  • The historical numbers that served as model inputs
  • The small change I made to these historical numbers
  • What quantities I forecasted (mainly revenue, but a few others)
  • How I forecasted revenue
  • How I forecasted the other quantities

That was it. Each bullet was one line long. I purposefully made the email easy to read. I included extra whitespace between the bullets, so he wasn’t staring at a wall of text when he opened the email.

That short email helped my boss make sense of the model before we got in the room to discuss. It also saved some time we would have spent at the start of our meeting hashing through the basics of the model.

I tell this story to show the importance of predicting what questions your stakeholders will ask. In your technical role, you have good instincts about what people will ask you.

As you transition to a business role, you need to broaden your perspective. You need to think about who your stakeholders are. You need to identify their most pressing needs.

For a lot of people, their day-to-day job is about putting out fires. If you know what fire you’re helping to put out, you’ll know which questions will come your way. If you anticipate these questions, you can save yourself, and your stakeholders, a lot of time.

You can add value by consistently anticipating and addressing the questions of your stakeholders. This way of adding value is easy to notice. It’s easy to appreciate. Gather these kinds of wins often enough, and you’ll get the visibility you need to accelerate your career transition.

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