Use QuestionStorming to Challenge the Challenge

Creative endeavors shouldn’t always begin with the search of the perfect solution. Instead, take time to find the right problem first.

Scott Berkun, for one, highlights the importance of framing problems creatively in his bestselling book The Myths of Innovation. He writes:

Discovering problems actually requires just as much creativity as discovering solutions. There are many ways to look at any problem, and realizing a problem is often the first step toward a creative solution. To paraphrase John Dewey, the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System, a properly defined problem is partially solved.

QuestionStorming is an effective but lesser-known method that helps teams collectively understand the challenge they are facing. The objective is to ask questions, not come up with solutions.

There are four basic steps to a QuestionStorming session:

  1. Draft a challenge statement. This is a single sentence that summarizes the problem you are ultimately trying to solve. (Get feedback on it from the project owner or project sponsor to make sure it’s aligned with their understanding.) Present the challenge statement to the team at the start of the session.
  2. Challenge the challenge. Have each person write down as many questions as they can about the challenge statement on separate sticky notes. These can range from factual clarification (who? what? where? when?) to questioning underlying assumptions (why? why not? what if?). Limit this section to three minutes.
  3. Cluster questions and discuss. As a group, review the questions everyone asked and organize them by theme. Select the most important themes and discuss them together.
  4. Re-write the challenge. In a final step, revisit the challenge statement and make changes to it based on the questions and the group conversation.

Mural.ly provides an excellent tool to run this activity with remote teams. One of our first sessions using the QuestionStorming method, for instance, consisted of teammates across three time zones. The session was as productive as a face-to-face meeting (see Figure 1).

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Figure 1: A QuestionStorming session at Mural.ly

Albert Einstein once said: “If I had one hour to save the world I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.” So, when your colleagues and team members jump right into coming up with solutions, check that they’ve been asking the right questions first.

QuestionStorming is a simple approach that can be done in the matter of an hour or two. Try it out with Mural.ly today.

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