Plain English questions for analysis

In part 1 of this posting I referred to Robin Hoyle’s 6 A’s and Clive Shepherd’s 20 areas of enquiry, Here I offer a selection of some of the questions I have typically asked of a client.

I don’t always ask all of the questions, but I am always alert and listening. Lots of information comes spontaneously. Whether or not they are a response to a specific question, I aim to record all answers and I look for patterns and links that might lead to a “cocktail” of solutions in the right places. The classifications of “Learner, Learning and Logistics” which Clive has quoted are a nice, simple way of beginning the necessary sorting and grouping of factors that affect performance. After many years of using it I still find Mager and Pipe’s worksheets and flowcharts to be invaluable. Another tool I’ve found useful in this context is MHI Global’s (formerly Huthwaite) consultative selling method, known as SPIN (Situation, Problem, Implication, Need”.

Plain English Questions for Analysis.

My own favourite opening question is “Why are we here?”, but there are always many alternative ways of phrasing the same question. I’ve used “What are trying to achieve?” “What’s up?” “What are you trying to accomplish here?” “What’s going on?” “What seems to be the problem?” “Tell me your story.” Then I hold in my head the poem by Kipling, that is so well-loved and often quoted by trainers and sales managers:

“I Keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.”

(Rudyard Kipling, From The Elephant’s Child.)

I work as I might with a jigsaw, looking for things that have a common colour or shape – here is a “what”, there is a “how”, here is a “who”, etc. Some questions I might never ask, and I’m always ready to invent new ones. My aim is to complete a framework like the border on a jigsaw, and then to fill in a picture with no pieces missing. My notes are almost always more like a mind-map or a picture than a text.

Before you read the questions I have found to be most productive, I stress that there is no standard system for asking these questions, and they are absolutely not to be asked in a fixed order. I also have in mind the wisdom of sales trainers who would remind me that I have one mouth and two ears and that I should use them in those same proportions
(2 listening : 1 speaking) when I’m engaged in diagnosis.

A short selection of typical “Plain English” questions for analysis


What seems to be a problem or needs to change?
What do you need to see happening that’s not happening now?
What do you think is the consequence of that?
What is the scale of the “problem”?
What will be the biggest advantages of making the change?
What will “finish” look like?
What will we hear people say?
What will we see people doing in a different way?
What do you believe is stopping people from meeting the standards you need them to meet?
What solutions have you already tried?
What happens if we do nothing about it?


Why is it a problem?
Why should we invest time, effort and resources in this?
Why is this the right time to deal with it?
Why should I get involved?
Why has the problem not been fixed before now?


When is the problem most likely to reveal itself?
When is the problem most inconvenient?
When is it least inconvenient?
When do we need the change to be initiated?
When do we need the change to be complete?


How well are people doing?
How do you know?
How can we get reliable, objective and scientific evidence of the current situation and how it affects the business?
How much is under-performance hurting?
How will we prevent matters from slipping back to as they were?
How can we win support for making a change?
How will we know that the change has happened?
How will you know when any problems have been fixed (what will you be seeing, hearing, measuring etc.)
How could the change be made apart from through Training?
How were people trained to do the task in the first place?


Where does the need for change appear most obvious?
Where have we dealt with this kind of situation before?
Where can we see the accounts of others who’ve already done what we’re considering doing?
Where might we find a new slant on this, for example in another organisation, sector, profession or domain?
Where might we find people whose work already meets the standard we want from everyone?


Whose performance needs to change?
Who’s involved?
Who’s at the heart of this (problem, change, vision etc.)?
Who is accountable for the current situation?
Who is responsible for it?
Who are the “high performers?”
Who are the “low performers?”
Who are the witting contributors?
Who might be unwitting contributors?
Who is most affected?
Who is losing sleep over this?
Who stands to gain most from making the change?
Who might block the change?
Who might champion the change?
Who has the capacity to supply resources, people or information that will help me to understand the situation and change it?

To conclude

Use your ears and eyes to seek out how things are. If you must use your mouth then know that you will achieve the best rapport and so get the best results when all talk is just natural conversation. Empathy is a key ingredient that makes it possible to reach a high level of trust, confidence and effectiveness. Step into the shoes of your customer and experience their world at first hand, feeling their pride and their pain. If you don’t care about uncovering the real reasons behind an apparent training need, then you might as well pack up and go and do something more useful elsewhere.

By pgstips

4 comments on “Plain English questions for analysis

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