Solving Agile Problems with Questions

Solving Agile Problems with Questions
Joe Burroughs

Joe Burroughs

Many people are frustrated by uncertainty and complexity in their jobs. I use Agile principles to provide clear and simple strategies so that you can win at work!

Agile Coaches often ask great questions

Most Agile problems can be solved if teams and individuals take the time to fully analyze the problem and see it from every angle. Agile Coaches use “Probing Questions” to help guide Agile Teams toward this deeper analysis. These questions are designed to remove blame, reduce stress, and promote logical assessment.

Many times a team or individual become so wrapped up in solving a particular problem that they don’t take the time to see how their work or solution fits into the bigger picture. Just as often teams struggle with inner conflict or disagreements and need to be guided to a resolution. These “Probing Questions” work well in such situations.


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Types of problems Probing Questions can solve

There are three basic categories of problems that Agile Coaches can help address with “Probing Questions” these categories are:

  1. Awareness based problems, “Do not see…”
  2. Fear or Concern based problems, “Do not want…”
  3. Performance based problems, “Do not know…”

Awareness based problems

Awareness based problems occur when a team or individual does not “see” a critical piece of the puzzle. They may not see how their behavior impacts others. They may fail to see other options available to them. They may not see the true underlying issue behind the problem they are solving. The common theme here is they fail to “see” some aspect of their work, it’s impact, their actions, or the consequences of those actions.

Awareness based problems are the first type of problems that a good Agile Coach will address, as these must be solved prior to moving to deeper issues rooted in fears or performance. The difficulty here is bringing the unknown into the conversation. Remember, that it is difficult for the team or an individual to address those things they are unaware of so use Probing Questions that help bring unknowns to the surface.

Fear or Concern based problems

Fear or Concern based problems typically stem from the fear of failure, concern about being embarrassed, and not wanting to appear vulnerable in front of others. These problems should only be dealt with after Awareness based problems are solved as fear-based issues will take more time and require trust to be established prior to making progress. Clearly, a good way to establish a baseline of trust is to assist in solving Awareness based problems and building a track record of success.

Fear or Concern based problems often present themselves with statements like, “We don’t want to fail.” “I don’t want to be embarrassed.” or “I don’t want the team to think of me like that.” The word “Want” is a key indicator that you are dealing with a fear or concern based problem. It is important to note that these fears or concerns must be dealt with prior to addressing performance based issues. It is nearly impossible to get a team or individual operating up to their potential if they suffer from fear or concerned based problems so they must be taken care of prior to moving ahead and addressing performance. Again, Probing Questions are the way to address these issues.

Performance based problems

These should be solved last as they are the most difficult to solve and can’t be improved without previously removing Awareness and Fear-based problems. Performance-based problems commonly fall into three areas: role understanding, technical expertise, and/or communications problems.

In order to quickly recognize Performance based problems see if the issues can be reworded in one of the following ways:

  • I or We “do not KNOW what is expected…”
  • I or We “do not KNOW how to accomplish…”
  • I or We “do not KNOW how to express…”

To solve these types of issues you can once again rely on using Probing Questions. They key is to solve these problems in order from Awareness, then Fear, and finally addressing Performance problems.

Tips for Agile Teams Working Remotely

Tips for Agile Teams Working Remotely

Regain Morale • Establish Momentum • Increase Engagement

Probing Questions

Well wouldn’t it be nice if I included some examples of these Probing Questions?!? Well, you are in luck! I’ll put a list of Probing Questions below but I’m going to ask you a favor. i want you to add one or two of your own Probing Questions in the comments below so that we can keep the discussion going!

Sample Probing Questions for you to use:

  • What is one action you could take to move things forward?
  • What is your responsibility in this matter?
  • What do you want to say, that you have not yet said?
  • What might an outside party say about this situation?
  • What might you be avoiding here?
  • If this is broken, what would fixed look like?
  • What can you do to lower the stakes here?
  • What has kept you from taking action so far?
  • What is the larger goal and how does this contribute?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen?
  • What bothers you the most relative to this issue?
  • What do you think matters most to your stakeholders?
  • Who can help you with this?
  • How can you influence the situation?
  • How can this problem be shifted to serve the greater good?
  • What is the minimum next step you can take at this point?
  • Could a discussion with external partners help in this case?
  • What matters most?
  • What beliefs or assumptions are involved that may be questionable?
  • Are there any concerns or fears relative to a sub-optimal outcome?
  • What would failure look like?
  • How is your success being limited?
  • What has not yet been said or answered?

I hope you can use some of these to help you Coach teams and individuals now and in the future, but I do want to see what your Probing Questions are, so don’t forget to leave one or two of your own questions in the comments section below!


Joe Burroughs

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