Effective Questioning

Our four part guide to the Attributes of the Effective Program Manager:

Part 1 of 4: The Program Manager’s Role
Part 2 of 4: Relationship Building
Part 3 of 4: Effective Questioning
Part 4 of 4: Decision Making

Part 3 of 4: Effective Questioning

Your program team can tell how in touch you are with the program by the quality of the questions you ask. Your team assesses you on the basis of the quality of your questions. Realize that you do not have to have expertise in the technology or line of business to be assigned as a program manager or project manager of that technology or line of business. Once assigned, however, you must completely and aggressively immerse yourself in the organization’s culture, technology, and line of business.

Good questioning starts with listening not just to your direct reports but also to the entire organization. From a program management perspective, listening and understanding are prerequisites of good questioning. It is valuable to pay attention not only to what individuals are telling you but also to what the process is telling you. Look at the process and culture as entities and then listen to what they are saying.

We need to recognize that our project managers, direct reports, and stakeholders may filter what they provide us. Although part of their job, their filtering process is not always perfect. Therefore, to ensure that information is unfiltered or is filtered according to our intentions, we must periodically get into the nooks and crannies of the organization to see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears. The higher the level you reach in an organization or the larger the program is, the more obstacles there are that limit your opportunity to listen to and talk with people at the working level. A challenging schedule, a secretary, a private conference room, and scattered teams can make this problematic. However, no amount of difficulty can minimize the necessity or importance of reaching out to these people.

This is why you must inform your direct reports and project managers that you can and will talk at any time to anyone who is involved in the program. Although your intent isn’t to circumvent their authority, you must have a feel to lead appropriately. No matter how busy or demanding your schedule is, you must spend a little time each day obtaining this feel.


Personal communication with all levels of the team is the goal. You obtain a feel just by communicating with the person directly. This interaction also sows seeds of trust. It expresses your concern for the integrity of the organization at all levels. Doing this daily, at random, ensures that you will not overlook areas considered noncritical in which problems, issues, and opportunities are often lying in wait.

An effective technique to employ when speaking to personnel identified at random is to occasionally ask, “If we could do one thing better or fix one thing, what would it be?” Be careful not to overreact to people’s recommendations; rather, use the information they reveal as a basis for getting the whole story or seeing the entire picture. Doing this also lets your entire leadership chain know they cannot selectively filter information or frame issues and decisions in a manner that is not reflective of the true situation. If you have never done this, you will be amazed at the results after six months. Becoming more visible will also make you more perceptive and in tune with the organization’s challenges. Such structured listening to the organization provides a sound basis for asking good questions.

Questioning is a critical element in establishing a culture of thoroughness. The words you never want to hear or have to say in the work environment are “We didn’t think about that.”

Our series is about the attributes of effective program managers. Another attribute is the integration of technology to the program management process. WorkOtter helps make your program management effective by implementing and managing your program proccesses. Get a demo of WorkOtter and see how we can make your program management effective.

“The Handbook of Program Management: How to Facilitate Project Success with Optimal Program Management, Second Edition” by James T. Brown is a copyrighted work of McGraw-Hill and McGraw-Hill reserves all rights in and to the Content. ©2014 by McGraw-Hill Education. Purchase the book on Amazon.


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