How To Ask Colleagues For Data - 10 Tips

Is it your job, or a part of your job, to ask people for information for a living?
If you are a knowledge worker chances are the answer is yes. And it's not always easy, because people are busy.
  • The bad news is that hunting down answers always involves some form of challenge.
  • The good news is that you can turn it into an art.
Here are some things I've learned over time that help me to be more effective in less time. 
  1. Short but doable deadlines: Pressure makes for action. But if there's no chance of meeting the deadline people won't bother.
  2. Be Specific: Phrase the request in terms of the concrete rather than the abstract. If there is a constraint associated with the information, include that (e.g. fiscal year) but if not, be clear that any information is useful.
  3. Get The Source: Ask for a link to the original information or the original document. Along the way, find out if the data is a matter of public record or not, and treat it accordingly.
  4. Clarify Your Authority: Unless they're especially kind, most people will not give much weight to your request unless they feel they must respond. Explain explicitly or implicitly why you have the right to ask.
  5. Be Polite: Really, you're not G-d. Be nice. 
  6. Restrict The Hours: Unless it's an emergency, bother people during a defined timeframe if possible. People can be trained to expect your interruptions, but if you are constantly and unpredictably intruding on their work, they will start to ignore you.
  7. Minimize Email Attachments: Store primary documents in the cloud and refer people to the link. Don't get stuck in the mini-mass email drama where someone has the latest version and it's impossible to track down.
  8. Use a POC: While it's convenient in theory to reach out directly to subject matter experts, a designated point of contact for inquiries is preferable. This person will be closer to the experts and will know when it's OK to ping them, and when to leave them alone. They will also be more likely to distribute your question to the right people.
  9. Check The Process: While it's important to deal with the matter at hand, it's even more important to make things better for next time. If you see that things tend to get stuck at a certain point in the process, apply Drano and then think like a plumber. How can you and the team get rid of the clog?
  10. Don't Overuse The Panic Button: There are always quick-response data calls. But if you're constantly asking for things as though the need were dire, then your words become not believable.
How do you get the answers you need? If you have any tips or suggestions, please share.