What Is Your Objective?

My favorite question for years has been, “What are you trying to accomplish?” Our clients frequently begin asking about new work with questions like, “How do I get a report out of the software that shows profit by job?” Or, “Does the software support barcode?”
I’ve learned to ask my question, “What are you trying to accomplish?” Sometimes the answer is simple, “I want to know whether I made money on that last installation we just finished.” Sometimes the answer is in a completely different direction, “I noticed that we lost money last month. I was trying to figure out why.” In that case, the answer might be on the Job Profitability Report (or whatever it’s called), but the answer might also be somewhere else.
Also, the question, “Does the software support barcode?” could be going in one of a hundred different directions. A few examples: “We’re getting a lot of returns, I want to have the packing staff scan out product before packing it.” Or, “Inventory is wrong, I think warehouse employees are entering the wrong part numbers in the system. I want to use scanners to make sure the product IDs are correct.”
In both of these cases, answering just the question asked may point in the right direction, or the client may find themselves barking up the wrong software tree.
More and more of the jobs being created today are in positions that require some business knowledge as well as technical knowledge. Being a CPA, knowing something about the technology (Windows, Linux, etc.), and being able to write code has been a big advantage to me in understanding the right questions to ask to help our clients.