We clarify the details of the project using the methods of practical psychology

Hello, Habr! My name is Vladimir. I am a developer at Maxilect. In addition to technical education, I have a background in practical psychology. In this article, I will break down a refinement model that can be useful to complement project information both in team discussions and in conversations with the business. The model contains questions to ask to get the data you need faster.

Classic - what did the customer want?
Classic – what did the customer want?

The text was written based on the materials of internal training, which I conducted in our company in early February.

When a leader, business leader, or client tells us about a project, they base the story on their worldview and personal experience. We cannot fully perceive this experience. Our idea of ​​the described subject will be distorted at least due to a different understanding of words.

However, our task is to correctly understand the transmitted information in order to realize exactly what the customer needs. Lack of understanding at this stage is fraught with inappropriate ideas, unnecessary actions, and fundamentally incorrect implementation.

TK transfer experiment

During internal training on this topic, in order to show how much the information is distorted, we retell the fictional TK three times. For the purity of the experiment, the participants did not prepare, and it was impossible to write down the details. Each participant heard the story of the predecessor (but not the previous retellings), and only once. He had to remember as many details as possible and pass them on to the next.

TK of the customer from the future. Original version

A long time ago a man from the future came to us. His name was Maaryya. And he told us the construction of a time machine – Aksha. And he warned us that he would return to our time to help collect it. And open to us an abundant world where we will be in happiness and joy, and incessant pleasure.

Until that time, we must develop technologies in order to obtain the necessary alloys and devices. Maaryya will appear when we have everything we need.

Seaborgium alloy with 3 and 1 thousandth% of Niobium must be made at temperatures below 10 Kelvin in a container lined with Scandium.

The alloy shape should be spherical with notches every 18 degrees. The depth of the cutouts should be accurate to within 1 picometer and be 1 millimeter. The radius of the sphere is 3 centimeters.

Maaryya warned that Aksha could only be created if the entire manufacturing technology of the sphere was strictly followed.

With everything else, Maaryya will help when she returns.

TK of the customer from the future. First retelling

A creature named Maarya flew to us from the future. It said that it would fly to us again to help build a time machine. The car is called Aksha.

To complete this task, we need to stay awake on our planet and prepare for the second visit, because Maaryya will not do everything for us. From our side, we need Siborium and another substance – with the letter B (let’s call it Borium). They must be mixed in a proportion of 3 and 1 thousandth of a gram with another substance (it seems it was called Serenty) and something should be done at a temperature of minus 1000 degrees in a vessel that has a 9 cm hole.

TK of the customer from the future. Second retelling

An alien from the future comes to us. Her name is Maaryya. We will need to make a time machine – they call it Akshna. Maarya has all the knowledge of how to do it, but she will not help us.

To make a time machine, we need three substances: Borium, Siborium and something else. The temperature at which the reaction takes place is minus 1000 degrees. In this case, Boria needs 3.001. There is no information about the rest.

Maaryya will fly to us again to see the result.

TK of the customer from the future. Third retelling

The stranger Maaryya will fly to us. We need to make a time machine for her. But she will not help us, she will just fly in a second time to check how we coped with the task.

To make a time machine, you need 3 substances: Borium, Seborium and something else. Boria needs a temperature of minus 1000 degrees. The amount of Borium is 3.001.

We will get a great project if we follow the finishing TK! (joke).

But let’s figure it out. Details gradually disappeared from history:

  • Initially, it was said that the alien flew in and left the TK. In the final version, it turned out that he did not visit us, but would arrive only at the end to see the result.

  • The information that the alien will reveal to us an abundant world, where we will be in happiness and joy, and incessant pleasure, was also omitted even at the first retelling. At the same time, technical data on the capacity and shape of the alloy disappeared.

  • The details were distorted: the composition of the alloy changed both in substances and in their proportions. Percentages in the original story turned into grams. 10 Kelvin turned to -1000 degrees.

It is curious that the name Maaryya was preserved in all the retellings, despite the fact that each time the story became shorter. It always happens that way. Remembering information, we highlight the most important for ourselves, and the rest we discard, distort or slightly change in accordance with our perception.

Let’s talk about how to restore the original information with questions.


Our main problems are generalizations, distortions and omissions. We saw these mechanisms of modeling by the psyche in the retelling. To recover information, we have a metamodel that builds speech patterns according to the degree of generalization from smallest to largest:

  • Non-specific nouns (table, chair, aquadiskotheque, palace, brush). These are words that describe specific objects in the real world – what we can touch, feel. It should be borne in mind that everyone represents their own “table” or “chair”, but one way or another we can find their embodiment in the physical world.

  • Non-specific verbs (edit, get, don’t give a damn, love, grab, remember, get out). This is not just an object, but some kind of continuous action that everyone can perceive in their own way.

  • Comparative generalizations (more, less, smoother, more successful, our own, others, quality). These are mainly adjectives. A person chooses the criteria for comparison in accordance with his life experience. They are unknown to us.

  • Nominalizations (understanding, education, love, situation, anxiety, respect). They are nouns, but they do not represent real objects. These are abstract concepts described using verbal nouns – a frozen process or several parallel processes.

  • Modal operators of impossibility and necessity (should …, must, must, must not, must). In Russian, modal operators are not highlighted, but in English they are (Must, Have).

  • Overgeneralization (everything, constantly, nobody, everyone). This is a combination of everything in one pile, again based on a person’s personal experience.

For each of the patterns, you can offer your own questions for clarification in order to come from a more general pattern to a small one:

  • Non-specific nouns… Let’s take a table. It can be different – high or low, of different shapes and purposes. The task of clarification is to determine the most important parameters of the table for us in order to restore the picture that was in the person’s head. Questions: Who / what exactly? Which one exactly? Whose?

  • Non-specific verbs… The first example was “edit”. You can rule in different ways – there is a monarchy or a democracy. Our task is to find out what behavior is hidden behind this term. What exactly does a person do? Therefore, it would be logical to ask the question: how exactly?

  • Comparative generalizations… The purpose of the questions for such a generalization is to find out what a person is comparing with, to identify more tangible criteria that are close to the physical world. Questions: In relation to what? How much? In what?

  • Nominalizations… By revealing nouns that are not represented in the physical world, our task is to understand what exactly a person means. What was this process, how did it interact with other objects. Questions: Who? When? Where? With whom? How exactly?

  • Modal operators of impossibility and necessity… These are the limitations that a person sets for himself. We ask questions to reveal its nature. Some of our questions can be aimed at helping the interlocutor to go beyond the limits set for themselves. Questions: What’s in the way? What happens if you did / didn’t? Who told you that?

  • Overgeneralization we have to clarify up to a specific case. If a person generalizes his experience incorrectly, we must find a counterexample. Perhaps he is referring to a specific situation. Questions: Everything, everything? Remember a time when it was different. What, straight, nobody? Is it all?

How it works in practice

Suppose a customer says he wants a chair with low legs.

It is important for us to understand how low? For this we need:

  • See the patterns of the metamodel. Better to start with the most general ones.

  • Come up with substantive questions to debunk this pattern. We must try not to go into a larger generalization. For example, the question “why” often leads to generalization. And “what makes you do this?” – to dissociation.

  • It is correct to ask this question.

Be green

I want to warn you that you need to clarify carefully. If you ask several questions for each generalization, it will quickly become annoying to the interlocutor. Here are some tips to reduce this irritation:

  • Prepare the person. Say that you do not understand everything and you need to ask a few clarifying questions.

  • Keep in mind why you are doing this. Be aware of the information you want to receive. Pointless questions are annoying.

  • Ask the next question only after the person has answered the previous one. Literally three questions in a row can put the interlocutor into a “trance” – he will not understand what to answer him.

  • Do not repeat questions of the same design. It hurts the ear much more than the questions themselves. With practice, variability will come – you will learn to ask the same question in different ways, and this will calm the interlocutor.

  • If the interlocutor is negative, change the direction of the questions. Perhaps this is a sore subject for a person or he does not understand why he should answer.

  • Metamodel is a coaching tool. But you do not need to “treat” a person if he does not ask for it. You should not disclose abstract concepts like love, responsibility, etc., if a person is not interested. Even if it seems to you that after disclosure, he could act more effectively in the world.

And good luck with your practice!

Above I talked about the clarifications in the project. But the model can be used for any area of ​​life. The article, of course, does not cover all the details of the model. But you can already start using it to collect information. Before a “sortie”, I recommend practicing in order to formulate questions faster and more naturally.

The author of the article: Vladimir Bushmanov, Maxilekt.

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