Asking “Can’t We Just … ?” Won’t Get You What You Need from the Digital Team

Really.I hear the phrase “Can’t we just . . . ” around the office a lot. Actually, I should correct that. I used to hear that phrase a lot.

Now I have a Post-it on my computer with those words in a circle with a line through it, and I’ve pointed to it enough times that I hear it less often.

Here’s what used to happen when people said that: I’d take a deep breath. Downward glance to compose myself. Pause-filling smile. Another pause filler, maybe sip my tea, or save my doc, or anything to buy a few more seconds to still my beating heart.

Because truth to tell, sometimes that phrase can come off as dismissive, belittling, or disrespectful. And whether you just want your projects to go smoothly, or you want to learn as much as you can to expand your career to encompass digital, you don’t want to be ticking off the tech team.

When you’re working on something in your area of expertise, you tend to know how long something should take and whether it’s a big or small ask. For example, an editor will know if she’s asking for “just” a small tweak, or a wholesale rewrite when she wants to change a story. But for some reason, people who have no notion of what’s involved in building a particular digital feature will toss off their request as if it’s no biggie at all.

Here’s why this is bad for your budding digital career: when you dismiss what people do, they don’t want to tell you more about what they do. And you want whoever knows more about digital than you do to be your new best friend. You want them to tell you what they are doing, why they do it, how they do it. You want to know what the options are, why they chose to do it the way they did, and how long it will take. You want to know how to measure it. And you will not find these things out by alienating them.

Here’s a checklist of questions to ask to increase your learning when making requests:

  • What’s involved in doing this?
  • Are there different ways of getting it done? What are the trade-offs for each?
  • Why is this a good idea, or not, for us?
  • How would this integrate with the rest of our products?
  • What might get delayed if we do this?
  • Are there any dependencies or risks involved?
  • What have we learned from developing previous products that would apply here?
  • How long should this take?
  • How can we measure success?

Of course, not everything is a “project.” Sometimes when you ask if something can just be done quickly, it can. Sometimes it’s a stretch, but the business case is compelling and we still make it work. When that happens, don’t forget to say thank you :-)

P.S. Let’s face it, just because you are ready to ask the right questions doesn’t mean you’ll immediately get all your answers. Next up: the best ways to get info from your digital team!

[Image: Noah Sussman/Flickr]

About this Gun

Lisa Schneider

Lisa Schneider

is an expert in digital strategy, product development and user experience. She has leveraged her skills and insights to help multi-platform brands across various categories expand their footprint, engagement level, and revenue in the digital space (online, social media, mobile, and gaming). Follow @lisaschneider64.