- Fishing for problems: Are the next steps clear?
- What do you think should be the next steps of this project, and why?
- What do you think we should be working on next?
- If you could start over, what would you have done differently?
When managing junior/midlevel engineers, one of your key objectives should be to encourage them to think about what they are doing—instead of just executing pre-assigned tasks.
Asking open-ended questions is an excellent way to get reports to think and talk about topics they may not have thought about yet—making them think at a higher level about what they are doing, and enabling them to become more autonomous and self-conscious.
Think of it as a sort of therapy: one of the reasons why therapy works is that people hear themselves talking about their issues, rather than having people tell them what to do.
Asking questions (rather than providing answers) is better to encourage growth!
Here are some examples of the questions you could ask your reports, during 1:1 meetings, project review meetings, etc.
Fishing for problems: Are the next steps clear?
What do you think should be the next steps of this project, and why?
This gets reports to think about the project as a whole (rather than the specific task they are currently executing).
As they think about the next tasks, they will have to think about topics such as:
Project management (how to properly conduct a project such that there's less risk of failure)
Task sequencing (which tasks should be done first, unblocking other team members, de-risking the project by doing risky tasks first, etc)
What do you think we should be working on next?
This is useful to get people to think about prioritization. When they are focused on executing only, it may be hard to think about the high-level objectives of the team.
This encourages them to think about:
Value/Effort Tradeoff: Each task has an estimated value but it also has some cost (i.e. work hours) attached to it. Both should be taken into account when selecting tasks to be worked on.
Focus on business outcomes: Thinking about the team priorities forces people to don the "business" hat and think about which tasks are more important from a business perspective.
- Being able to think about business needs is a key skill many technically-oriented people lack.
If you could start over, what would you have done differently?
Thinking about one's work objectively—from a distance—is a great way to let go of unhelpful or unproductive behavior patterns that can hinder one's career.
By asking reports what they could have done differently in a project or task, you allow them to reflect upon their work, helping them grow as professionals.