8th November 2008

Why is "Why?" still the most under appreciated question?

Questions, in life or in business, fall into the following buckets:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • How?

I’ve spent a great deal of time defining my own as well as evaluating and using other methodologies for strategic planning.  For the record, I’m a fan of scenario planning.  If interested, here’s a pretty good read:  Profiting from Uncertainty.  Having said that, strategic planning methodology can be a lot like ice cream…some people just like different flavors and at times a different flavor is just a better choice.  If you’d like to explore methods, there’s another pretty good reference book called Strategy Safari.

Most of work I do today involves strategic planning around Customer Experience, Social Media, Communities, Influencer Programs and Voice of the Customer initiatives.  When it comes to social I often use the following planning framework to help structure a project:


And in case it’s not obvious, if you use this framework, start with Purpose.  I’m in the process of documenting a playbook based on this approach which hopefully I can share at a later date as the above really isn’t as detailed as it needs to be, but perhaps a reasonable starting point. 

Methodology forces you to ask and answer a lot of questions, but throwing all thoughts of methodology to the side, it has struck me in my last 6 months of consulting projects the imbalance in basic questions. 

Most of the focus on questions are the following:  What, When and How?

  • What are we going to do? 
  • What technologies are we going to use?
  • When are we going to launch?
  • When is it going to be done? 
  • How are we going to measure it? 

And far too little time focused on these questions:  Why, Who and Where?  (Especially Why!!)

  • Why are we doing this? 
  • What problem are we trying to solve (ok, ok, that’s a "what" - but it is really a why!)
  • Who is our audience?
  • Who are the internal stakeholders?
  • Where are we going to focus our efforts?

So, maybe the old questions we learned in grade school could be a pretty good v1 planning template.  The irony is that the biggest question I get asked is always around metrics and ROI.  They are critical points, but until you answer the question of why (and gain organizational agreement to that answer!!) you can’t answer the ROI question with any specifics.  I can give you a list of metrics to attach to a social site or community, but I can’t tell you if those metrics matter unless I know what the business objective is.

So, maybe some primer questions to start the list, I’m sure you can think of more to add.

  • Why:  Define you purpose
  • What:  What are the business objectives
  • Who:  Define your audience and/or segmentation
  • How:  How do our users do it today (whatever you define it is in the why question)
  • Where:  Inventory where users are going today
  • What:  What are the interactions we need to enable to improve the experience
  • What:  What systems and processes do we need to integrate with
  • What:  What technology and tools are necessary to support this effort
  • How:  How will we know it’s succeeding
  • What:  What are the success measures
  • Who:  Who are the internal stakeholders
  • Who:  Who are the key people and organizations we need to get engaged / participating?
  • What:  What are our policies and/or guidelines to govern internal participation?
  • When:  Define the project timeline
  • How:  How much is it going to cost (to execute AND sustain)

And maybe two last points.  You’ve got to re-validate that why question again and again and ensure you are continuously educating everyone involved on the answer - otherwise you’ll stray.  And lastly, friends don’t let friends plan without execution or execute without plans:) 


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