Even If It’s Obvious: Ask

Even If It’s Obvious: Ask


Over lunch today, I recounted a story about a project I had completed at a prior job.

We had spent many months designing a teleconferencing student recreation and learning suite, complete with state-of-the-art teleconferencing codecs, microphones, cameras, and control interfaces.

We spent months meeting over the logistics of working with A/V vendors, electricians, and building contractors, getting people working on their part of the project, on time and at the right time.

We met regularly with our finance people, to make sure we were on track and on budget.

We met throughout the project with the people who would be using the space, to make sure all of the elements were going to meet their need, and that all of the elements going into the space met the stated intention of the room.

Finally, we outfitted the room with a wonking huge flat-panel display, to finish the room setup (I know. You’re already way ahead of me).

The day came to turn up the equipment, check out the networking, and test everything in the setup.

The codec worked beautifully. The sound was phenomenal. The microphones picked up every nuance in the room. The control interfaces were intuitive, and precisely what we described to our A/V vendor. Check. Check. Check.

Finally, this: “Where is the control for Basic Cable TV?”


Dozens of people involved in the process. Months of planning. Detailed oversight throughout.

No one had thought to ask to install cable TV. In a student recreation lounge. With a TV that covered the side of a barn.

No one – including myself – thought to ask the most elemental of questions, concerning function over form.

Fortunately, we were able to easily correct the issue, and had cable installed in short order, before students arrived on campus.

The only real casualty was our embarrassment. And, a little “stupid tax” we paid.

Even if the question seems obvious, Ask. Always.


2 thoughts on “Even If It’s Obvious: Ask

  1. Hi David,

    In this case, what would you have asked for? You couldn’t have asked for “Cable TV” because you didn’t even remember it. The client should have mentioned this when you were collecting the requirements. It’s a good practice for a project manager to assume things but it is not his responsibility to assume, and he shouldn’t be accountable for not assuming something that wasn’t even mentioned by the client in the first place.


    1. Maybe it’s not the PM’s responsibility.

      But if I’m helping shepherd a costly project, I have an accountability to myself to create an outcome with the highest value to stakeholders.

      My project “facepalm” certainly wasn’t on par with sending the Hubble up with mirrors that wouldn’t focus on stars; nonetheless, someone over the life of that particular project should have caught such an obvious oversight.

      The point being, don’t be afraid to ask what may seem like an “obvious” or trivial question – because you may be simply the first to ask, or even the only one to ask the single question that differentiates an acceptable deliverable, from something that falls well short of the mark.

      In the particular example I mentioned, everyone worked for the same organization. Even so, I wouldn’t have blamed an external customer for being miffed if we had left such a glaring oversight unaddressed on delivery.


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