Need help? Be specific!

Invariably, you don’t always have all the expertise you need in order to complete all your tasks. By extension, it is not uncommon to have to enlist the help of others with more knowledge of a particular subject for help. When you do, though, being specific about what it is you are asking for and setting proper context can save everybody a lot of time and frustration.

Recently I received an email similar to the following (names besides mine changed to that of Star Wars characters):

To: Pete Johnson
From: Chancellor Palpatine
Subject: Project X resource estimates needed immediately!

Pete,

I am launching Project X soon and need resource estimates for your team’s contribution to it so that we can properly secure funding. Please get back to me by next Wednesday.

Chancellor Palpatine
Leader, Galactic Senate
palpatine@galacticsenate.gov
213-666-1138 (w)

On it’s face, that might read like a nicely formatted email, only I’d never heard of Project X much less understand my team’s contribution to it. I was being asked to help secure funding, but I had no idea what for. I had no context for the question being asked so, I followed up:

To: Chancellor Palpatine
From: Pete Johnson
Subject: Re: Project X resource estimates needed immediately!

Hi Chancellor Palpatine,

I’m afraid I’m not familiar with the inner workings of Project X. When you get a chance, can you pass along any documentation that might clarify what it is about and how my team is expected to contribute to it? I’d be more than happy to work on estimates for you, but I’ll need an understanding of what is involved. Thanks.

Pete Johnson
petecj2@gmail.com

So, I tried to be friendly and accommodating, but clear that I had no idea what he was talking about. Then, the plot thickened:

To: Pete Johnson
From: Chancellor Palpatine
CC: Anakin Skywalker
Subject: Re: Project X resource estimates needed immediately!

Pete,

I don’t have those details myself, but Anakin does.

Anakin, can you please provide Pete with the information he asked for?

Chancellor Palpatine
Leader, Galactic Senate
palpatine@galacticsenate.gov
213-666-1138 (w)

So, the original sender didn’t have enough information about the request he himself made, but assumed I did. Big mistake. Finally, I got the information I needed:

To: Pete Johnson
From: Anakin Skywalker
CC: Chancellor Palpatine
Subject: Re: Project X resource estimates needed immediately!

Pete,

The aim of Project X will be to alter the data flow of several downstream sources that your application teams use. Our aim is to make these changes transparent to you as the various interfaces you use today will not change. What we really need from you here is to provide testing resources for each of your projects so that we can insure everything is working properly once we make changes on our end.

I hope that helps.

Anakin Skywalker
anakin@jeditemple.gov
“Your focus determines your reality” —Qui-Gon Jinn

What happened here? The original request was ambiguous and assumed I knew things about the context of Project X that I didn’t. In order to properly respond, I had to follow up and, as it turned out, the original requester of the information didn’t know either.

Once clarified, I was being asked to provide resource estimates for a project I’d never heard of, but once the details of the project were made available it was far more obvious what was needed. But because the original request wasn’t specific enough, it caused unnecessary email noise that wasted some time. Had the first message contained the information that the last email did, it could have saved everybody extra communication to keep track of and a resolution would have been reached quicker.

I’ve made this mistake myself plenty of times, but a good rule of thumb when you are asking for help from someone else is to stop and ask yourself what context that person has on the problem you have. In your request for help, build that context and be specific about what it is you are asking. That will save time for everybody and avoid annoying others, which might limit your ability to ask them for help again.

Advertisements

One Response to “Need help? Be specific!”

  1. iphone games music Says:

    Nice blog, i have added it to my favourites, greetings

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: