A four-facet framework for thinking holistically about questions

All of us need to answer questions all the time. Clearly factual questions are easy, one knows the answer or not. However, most questions are not well-formed. So how do one make sure that you consider the question from a holistic perspective?

While detail will differ for every question, I believe in using framework as a starting point. In the last several years I developed my framework for thinking about complex questions, specifically if they need action from my side.  The framework has its roots in the IDEF0 modeling method, although it now looks nothing like it, and has nothing to do with functional descriptions anymore. To explain it let me give an example question. Say I’m contemplating “What changes should I introduce in my IT Management” module?”

Clearly this question has no simple or definitive answer. Best I can hope for is move in the right direction. So what do I do? I identify 4 facets:

  1. What are the forces from above? The things I have little control over, but which I should consider to possibly influence what I do.  So with my question I will consider, for example: What are the International trends, how do other courses look? Is there any standards or best practice guidelines which are prominent in the space? What are the formal (“legal”) requirements for a course at this level?
  2. What are the situation on the ground? What is currently happening in the module? What is the student’s opinion about the module? How does my knowledge and skills in the field look? How much time is available? What kind of class / laboratory can it be taught in? How does the profile of students entering the module look? What pre-requisite knowledge can I bargain on? Can I get student assistants to help?
  3. What are the inputs that can be consumed by the module? What books are available? What resources on the Internet is useful? What study aides will students have available? How does the library resources for the module look?
  4. What outputs do I expect from the module? What are the module goals? What bigger qualification-level objectives do I want to meet? What extra material should I produce? What skills do I expect students to exhibit once completing the course?

And while this list of questions is by no means complete, it does offer a quick way of thinking much more holistically about the original question than just having the question.

Which techniques do you use to help you think more comprehensively about things?


One Response to A four-facet framework for thinking holistically about questions

  1. […] my earlier post on a four-facet thinking framework I had some discussions with Riekert du Preez where we tried applying that way of think to his MBA […]

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