A FAQ About Frequently Asked Questions

1. What’s a FAQ?

A list of questions with answers written in English are a great way to drive clear thinking on all the stuff that surround the central idea presented in a narrative. This ‘stuff’ includes things like strategy, execution, technology, business, and resources.

The main text of any narrative should be so clearly written that FAQs are unnecessary. To accomplish this, make a list of ten questions a reader might ask. Answer them. Then determine if those answers should be integrated into the main text or handled verbally in the review meeting. Put the answers that don’t belong in the document but might be needed during the meeting (verbally) in a back-pocket appendix. Repeat. By doing this, the author is forced to do the critical thinking to generate more questions and answers.

As the author does this, she or he will find questions that simply can’t be answered cleanly in the main document or are too critical to leave for the back-pocket appendix. These become FAQs in the FAQ section of the narrative.

2. Where should FAQs appear in a document? 

FAQs should generally come at the end of the document, after the prose. 

3. Should FAQs be numbered? 

Yes, you should number them. Numbering FAQs makes it easy for readers to call out which FAQ they want to make a point about. If there are multiple sections of FAQs in a document (e.g., a Customer FAQ and an Internal FAQ), make sure the numbering is continuous across all sections. This way readers can precisely call out a specific question. (The FAQs in this wiki would be numbered if confluence made it easy to do so. It doesn’t).

4. How many questions can be asked and answered in each FAQ? What if the question is complicated? 

Every FAQ should be comprised of a single question with a direct answer to that question (and only that question). Ask and answer only one question at a time. For example, the question I’m answering right now is a horrible example (intentionally), because it asks two questions. The second question (what if the question is complicated) makes writing a simple answer impossible. Figure out how to simplify the questions so there’s only one question, or just make two FAQs. 

5. Is a FAQ a required element of a narrative? 

A perfect six-page narrative would answer all the readers’ questions in the main body prose. However, often there are aspects where the FAQ format is the only way to simply and clearly answer a question. 

In fact, over-using FAQs can lead to sloppy writing, which results in less clear thinking. 

Some narrative forms (e.g., Working-Backwards (WB) narratives) have a set of required FAQs. 

6. What’s the trick for identifying good FAQs?  

Here are a few tips for identifying good FAQs: 

Seek the truth: Ask yourself what questions about the topic would you least like to answer verbally. Anything you come up with is likely a good candidate for a FAQ. 

Imagine the most hostile (or rude) thing a reader might ask. A classic is “Why are we wasting time on this idea?” 

Consider the obvious or negative cases. For example, if your narrative describes a new product and target customer segment, a FAQ might be “What customer segments will this product NOT be attractive to?” 

Sometimes there is a set of standard FAQs that every narrative of a type (e.g. a WB narrative) must answer (e.g. “What geographies will this product be launched in?”) 

7. What tips will help keep the questions simple? 

Less is more. The fewer words in your question, the better. Long questions are hard to parse and read. 

Ask the question. Seriously. If you find you are having trouble phrasing the question simply, find another human and verbally ask them the question. Often this will cause you simplify how you ask it.  

8. Is there a trick to answering only one question at a time? 

The trick is to only ask one question at a time (I added this because I have found it incredibly common for writers to stumble on this obvious point). 

Should questions and answers use proper English (grammar, spelling, and punctuation)? 

Yes. It is important both the question and answer use proper English to accurately and concisely answer the question. 

9. Does the order of questions in a FAQ matter? 

The order in which things are presented always indicates an order. We wouldn’t use the word ‘order’ if there wasn’t an ordering. More important things should be presented before less important things. Related questions should be kept together. If you have another heuristic that would determine the order for your FAQs then use it (but you better explain it explicitly and clearly to the reader). 

10. How many questions can be in a FAQ? 

There is no limit to the number of questions in a FAQ. A well written six-page narrative (with included FAQs) can be read by most careful readers in 20-30 minutes. For a 60-minute review meeting, this leaves 30 minutes for discussion. Six pages is the maximum, not the ideal. A one-page document that describes a simple solution to a complex problem clearly is vastly superior to a six-page document that does the same thing. 

Start with a goal of having no more than ten FAQs works. 

11. Can an entire narrative be structured as a FAQ? 

I’ve seen it work for narratives that explain a technique, like in a blog post describing how to write great FAQs. However, FAQs are not a great way to describe a concept such as a new customer experience or product plan. For those, actual narrative (words in sentences that make up paragraphs that flow from beginning to end) is far more effective primarily because writing actual prose is what forces the writer to really think clearly. 

12. When reading a FAQ, should I carefully read the questions? 

The author of the document wouldn’t have written the question if they didn’t think it was important. So, yes.

13. What’s a FAQAFAQ?

A FAQ about Frequently Asked Questions. Of course. Credit @ctpierson.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

I’m Betting on Control4

Previously I blogged about revamping the home control and entertainment system in my home. I decided to go with Control4. I mean REALLY go with Control4.

First, I’ve been having a professional premium smart home installer (Wipliance) completely revamp my home with Control4 products.

Second, I’ve decided to join Control4 as Senior Vice President of all their products and services. See the press release here.

The home project is almost complete. All that’s left for Wipliance to wrap up are a few edge-case devices and some programming. Oh, and the theater isn’t done as we decided to replace the carpet at the same time, and part of that install got goofed up (my fault).

I went with 148 intelligent lighting loads controlled by Control4’s panelized lighting, 52 Control4 keypads, five rooms of Multi-room 4K video including an Atmos home theater setup, 10 zones of Multi-Room audio using Triad amplifiers and speakers, two Control4 door stations, 15 Pakedge cameras, 9 Control4 smart thermostats, five Pakedge wireless access points, a host of Pakedge gigabit switches, and more. My fireplaces and the air compressor in my garage are all controlled by Control4 too. My network has 98 IP devices 58 Zigbee devices.

2018-07-27 07.50.52-2

Via Control4’s fantastic Alexa skill, Alexa can control 157 individual lights and 41 scenes. We can use touchscreens, phones, and voice to control all 15 (10 audio, 5 audio and video) media zones (“Alexa, turn up the volume on the patio”). My wife can use voice to raise the temperature in 9 spaces. Control4 doesn’t yet support the Alexa Smart Home Camera Skill API, but I suspect that will change <g>.

2018-07-27 08.06.10

In case you are not familiar with Control4, the company’s mission is to be both the solution and platform-ecosystem leader for premium automation and networking for the connected-home market. Control4 builds and sells over a hundred products under three brands: Control4 (Intelligent Lighting, Multi-room video distribution, A/V Communication and Intercom devices, and automation controllers), Triad (Premium multi-room audio amplifiers, switchers, and speakers), and Pakedge (professional-grade routers, switches, wireless access points, and network management).

I’m excited about all this (both my kick-ass home and my new job). The team is amazing and I’m looking forward to learning how to get stuff done at a much smaller public company. I’m also intrigued and a little scared to be taking on such a broad portfolio of products. I’m known for building and shipping more singular products and platforms. In this role I’ll be responsible for dozens of products across multiple domains.Control4 BrandsThe company is firing on all cylinders with 16% compounded growth rate over the past 5 years. It’s profitable and public for five years with no debt. The average Control4 home orchestrates more than 42 connected-devices, with the top 10% of home orchestrating more than 180.

Control4 stands out for its continued growth because our solutions and platform enable reliable, useful, and compelling smart home experiences – from a single room, to the most luxurious and comprehensive of homes, as well as tens-of-thousands of guestrooms at premium hotels (Cosmo, Montage, Aria).

2018-07-27 07.38.42During my time at Amazon, I witnessed the explosive growth in the Smart Home – voice, the most natural interface for the home, has driven consumer demand and acceptance. The problem is, getting all those individual products to work together – throughout the entire home is work typical home owners just don’t want to do. There’s too much fragility and complexity for normal folks to deal with.

For the past 16 years I did everything myself: multi-room audio, smart lighting, smart sprinklers, whole home security, and automation. Even for me, it was a second fulltime job to make all that really work. I’m absolutely convinced that the only way normal people will be able to really enjoy the benefits of a whole-home smart home is with professional help (see my blog post from earlier this year titled Concierge Home Technology).

Control4 has a full line of premium smart home products designed to work together and 5000 independently dealer/integrators who take the hassle out of design and installation of personalized solutions (like my home). The platform works with over 12,000 3rd party products and I believe the Control4 ecosystem is the most expansive in the premium smart home industry. Along with a culture of customer obsession, these assets combine to make having a true smart home easier than anyone else – and more comprehensively simple.

I am also excited about the opportunity to deliver new experiences to the Control4 dealer. I’ve recognized the importance of the professional integrator and his/her role in delivering reliable and compelling experiences for homeowners. I’m keen on empowering an expanding number of Control4 dealers with new tools and products to help drive experience, efficiency, and business profitability. I have very relevant experience building customer and developer communities at both Amazon and Microsoft.2018-07-27 07.54.42

Control4 is growing and we have many great roles open. For example, I’m immediately looking to hire a Head of Hardware Engineering and a Software Development leader for mobile and GUI. We are also hiring a Sr. Director of Product Management for Lighting. Click here to see what other roles we’re hiring for.

Now that I have pros configuring and managing my home systems, I plan on spending more time blogging about how we USE our home. Check back!

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Tools to Achieve Clarity of Thought

This post inventories the tools I use from my toolbox when I need to drive clear thinking in product development. I was inspired to write this based on a Twitter conversation in March:

Charlie’s Clarity of Thought Toolbox

  • Write Down The 5 Ps. Purpose, Principles, Priorities, Plan, and People. Detailed here: The 5 Ps: Achieving Focus in Any Endeavor.
  • Dive Deep. Do the hard work required to actually know the details at the deepest level. The more details you know, the better questions you can ask. The better questions you ask, the more everyone gets clarity of thought. Better clarity of thought leads to better decisions by everyone. So, read the actual source code (or even better write some code). Use the product until it fails. Read every Jira. Do the math yourself. Write the document that explains it to everyone else.
  • Be a Great Reader. Read. Every. Word. Carefully. I wrote a blog post on this topic here.
  • Audit Mechanisms. An audit mechanism is a system or process that forces details to be surfaced regularly. For example, in a weekly operational excellence review, use a wheel-of-fortune style wheel to randomly select a project each week where the lead must explain their metrics dashboard. This forces every project to be prepared, but scales because not every project has to be reviewed each week.
  • Seek the Truth. Question everything.
  • Write Narratives. As Jeff Bezos said “It is impossible to write a great 6-page narrative and not have clarity of thought.” If you are tackling any hard problem take the time to write a short (no longer than 6-page), narratively written, memo presenting the problem. See some of my posts on writing here. Also make sure you read Jeff Bezos’s 2017 Letter to Shareholders.
  • Ask The 5 Whys. No tool is better at getting to the root cause than “The 5 Whys”. Folks often cheat when using the 5 Why’s and ask 5 parallel questions. Don’t fall into that trap. Ask questions that seek the truth and don’t be afraid to have multiple 5 Why threads in parallel. Write it down.
  • Taxonomy and Lexicon. Develop a strong taxonomy with clear entity names. Create three buckets and put parts of the problem in them. Give each a name that logically makes sense. Don’t be afraid to get out the dictionary and thesaurus. Think hard about the meanings of the words you choose. Make it pithy. Write it down. Take a look at these blog posts for examples of taxonomies and lexicons I’ve developed: Customer, Business, Technology, Organization (CBTO), The 5 Ps: Achieving Focus in Any Endeavor, and The Market Sides of the Mobile Ecosystem.
  • Invent or Steal a Mental Model. Ask yourself “what is a real-world analogy for this topic?” Startup folks are often great at coming up with “Uber for avocados” mental models. Don’t be afraid to steal mental models from others. Write your mental model down. These blog posts cover mental models I’ve stolen from others and might help you understand how mental models work: Attention is the Currency of Leadership and Merit Badges.
  • Structured Brainstorm. It is amazing what can happen when a group of smart folks get in a room for a structured brainstorm session. The funny thing about structured brainstorm sessions is how they are better the less organized they are. Levity is key.
  • Do something monotonous and un-related. Wax the car. Power wash the driveway. Plant petunias. Bake cookies. It is ok to procrastinate (you can tell ‘em I gave you permission). Focusing on repetitive, monotonous, and unrelated tasks enables the subconscious to work magic.

Do you have other tools you’d like to share? Post them as a comment please!

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

Let Word Work For You

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I have to edit a document someone else has written and they’ve manually messed with the formatting.

WINWORD_2018-06-04_08-13-48

Microsoft Word has an incredibly flexible style system that makes creating docs that look great easy. It also makes easy for others editing the doc can keep things consistent.

This isn’t to say Word’s style system is perfect. Far from it. Many of the same styling bugs that existed in Word for Windows 7.0 appear to still be in the most recent version. For example, styles involving numbering and hanging indents are just wonky. But working around these is still better than trying to keep a document formatted consistently by hand.

Do not change the formatting of a paragraph, header, bulleted list, numbered list, or any other element smaller than a sentence directly. Instead either edit the current style or create a new style an apply it.

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.