One handy technique I learned years ago at Microsoft was the Rude Q&A (RQA). Whenever a major product we were working on was about to have it’s first public demo, we’d draft a document of all the difficult, and perhaps rude, questions a smart but aggressive reporter might ask. We’d work with PR to draft it and distribute it to anyone who was going to talk with journalists. It forced us to think through our message, improve our thinking and at times even realize ways to make the product better.
Why do this?
- Helps you prepare for criticism. If you do hear a tough question you want to be ready. A RQA runs you through the unpleasant things you might hear, and increases the odds you’ll handle that situation well. A good RQA raises confidence in tough meetings or presentations.
- Many people will not give you the benefit of the doubt. When you work on a project your optimism makes it hard to see what you’ve built objectively. A RQA forces you to see your blind spots of how the project will be received.
- Revision. If you have lots of good RQA questions, but don’t have good answers, it’s a red flag that your plan, design, or pitch needs more work.
When to do it
- Before Launch. When I worked on software projects, we’d write RQA for our areas before any major launch. We’d share them and discuss, and then give them to anyone who had to represent the product to the public or the press.
- Early in the project. Provided it’s treated as an exercise, rather than a product planning technique, making an RQA early can help sanity check the assumptions your team is making about the project. Doing it early makes it possible to discover a better plan or approach for the project itself.
How to create a RQA
- Ask friends who excel at giving tough feedback for their opinions. Some people are naturals at this task and enjoy coming up with the rudest, most confrontational questions the world has ever seen. You might be offended or hurt by what they come up with, but that’s okay – better to be offended/surprised now, in an RQA than in a demo, pitch meeting or public setting.
- Make sure to include questions that are unfair or based on erroneous, but popular, assumptions. Reporters, clients, and the public all have their share of unfair questions and erroneous information, and you want to be ready for them.
- Spend more time on the answers than the questions. The answers take more time because the responses need to be more polite and mature than the questions themselves. They also need to carefully refute assumptions in the questions without being dismissive.
- Write polite answers. Only the questions should be rude – your answers should be diplomatic. Technically it’s a Rude Q & Polite A (RQPA).
- Review them with your staff. You want everyone who speaks publicly about the project to have similar answers.
[revised and edited 8-16-16]