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InfoQ Homepage Podcasts Kent McDonald and Heather Mylan-Mains on Socratic Questioning

Kent McDonald and Heather Mylan-Mains on Socratic Questioning

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In this podcast Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, spoke to Kent McDonald and Heather Mylan-Mains on their talk at Agile 2017 about Socratic Questioning

Key Takeaways

  • Socratic questioning n approach to learning which is based on getting to answers through a question-based dialogue
  • Frequently what is presented at the beginning of a product investigation is a proposed solution rather than exploring the real need
  • There are six categories of questions to expose assumptions, change perspectives and delve into an issue or opportunity
  • There are other techniques which are needed when there is uncertainty about the existence of a problem or opportunity
  • This approach is not just restricted to elicitation – it can be used very effectively in a team situation when exploring options and identifying challenges
  • 0:30 Introductions
  • 1:15 Describing what Socratic Questioning is
  • 1:35 An approach to learning which is based on getting to answers through a question-based dialogue
  • 1:55 Using the approach to uncover real underlying business and customer needs
  • 2:40 Talking through the approach using a series of questions to explore the underlying goals and needs
  • 3:25 Frequently what is presented at the beginning of a product investigation is a proposed solution rather than exploring the real need
  • 3:40 Examples of the types of questions which help to get to the underlying “why”
  • 4:15 The common situation of an order being placed without actually understanding if the problem is worth the effort/expense of addressing it
  • 4:35 Using Socratic questioning allows the requestor to identify for themselves if the problem is worth solving or not, and what the real problem actually is, rather than the consultant or analyst trying to tell them
  • 4:50 Additional examples and scenarios in different contexts
  • 5:15 There are six categories of questions to expose assumptions, change perspectives and delve into an issue or opportunity
  • 5:45 An example of what can go wrong when a project is approached from the wrong perspective
  • 6:13 Switching the lens makes a very powerful conversation
  • 6:35 The approach is appropriate when you know there is a need or opportunity and the need is to get clarity on it. 
  • 6:45 There are other techniques which are needed when there is uncertainty about the existence of a problem or opportunity
  • 7:25 Good habits for elicitation
  • 7:35 The importance of listening for elicitation, and the way Socratic questions encourage story telling
  • 8:05 The need to be flexible in elicitation questioning – have a list of questions but don’t be stuck with just that list; adapt the questions to what happens in the elicitation activity
  • 8:35 Knowing when to dig deeper – have you discovered something new which needs to be explored further
  • 9:05 Do your research in advance of an elicitation session – don’t ask basic factual questions that you should be able to get from simple research
  • 9:35 A role-play of Socratic questioning in action
  • 12:00 Exploring what happened in the role-play
  • 12:55 Many ideas for new projects come from un-validated assumptions – this approach will expose those assumptions and the need to validate them
  • 13:35 The need to create a “safe space” for this type of questioning because it can be uncomfortable
  • 14:10 The approach could result in the work not being done – the project isn’t worth doing, and that is a successful outcome.  Or it could result in much better clarity into why the problem is worth addressing
  • 14:55 The need to build trust in the conversation
  • 16:05 This approach is not just restricted to elicitation – it can be used very effectively in a team situation when exploring options and identifying challenges
  • 16:45 Even if you think you have the right answer, using this approach to allow the team to explore options for themselves will build problem solving skills and resiliency in the team members
  • 17:05 Every member of a team should have these skills and be prepared to use them when exploring challenges both inside and outside the team
  • 17:20 The more you exercise the approach the easier it will become to use
  • 17:45 Kent has become known for asking the question “what problem are we trying to solve here”

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