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This blog post was prompted by a comment posted by Susan Keohan on my previous post dealing with my struggles to get workflow to cooperate which is basically a summary of three questions I had asked in Q&A and the extensive help I received in the form of answers there. Susan’s suggestion to write something about asking good questions came as a bit of a surprise as there already are resources readily available in the SAP Community about that:

So, what follows is my personal way of going about this and there’ll be some overlap with these existing resources.

Why ask a question at all?

For me, there are different reasons to ask a question, like trying to find out why something isn’t working, how others are dealing with a given situation or how a process could be improved to work better than it currently does. Some of the questions are technical in nature while others are more “philosophical”. In all cases, my incoming assumption is that it’s highly unlikely that I’m the first person running into the issue or having to deal with a particular situation. There are just way too many people working in the SAP environment for a question to be really unique. But, this doesn’t necessarily mean that somebody actually asked the question previously or that he or she had received a response.

Add to that, that I’ve always been curious and eager to find out why something is working (or not!) and you’ll understand why I actually like asking questions. Without asking questions – especially the “why” ones – we as a species wouldn’t have evolved the way we did.

What to do before asking a question

Well, to state the obvious: do your due diligence before jumping in to ask your question! For me, this often entails some trial and error to see if I can figure out technical issues myself with the help of debugging or any of the other handy tools available to us like the performance analysis (SAT) or the SQL-trace (ST05). If that doesn’t get me anywhere, I’ll try to explain the issue to my colleagues in our programming and basis teams to find out if they have an idea or some further leads. The next – or even a parallel – step is then usually a search either directly in the SAP community, on SAP support, or with a wider net via Google. The tricky thing here is to pick the search terms which provide just the right number of answers, neither too many nor too few and I really wish I had mastered that skill! Unfortunately, this is still a lot like playing “hit and miss” as I often don’t find anything because my search terms turn out to be too restrictive or I get hundreds of hits as the search was way too unspecific.

Search by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

But, even if these steps don’t provide an answer, they should at least help with delimiting the scope of the question to be asked. In addition, information captured in the form of screen-shots and/or code-snippets when dealing with a technical issue will come in handy when actually composing the question.

How to ask a question

Once I’ve run through my own research options without finding an answer, it’s time to compose a question to be posted in Questions & Answers. The first task is to come up with a meaningful title for the question. Sometimes this is easy, it basically writes itself but sometimes it’s more involved especially when it’s not easy to boil it down into a simple “How do I ….” kind of question. I’ll let you be the judge of how well stated – or not – my own questions thus far have been!

When composing my questions, I’m obviously hoping to get some answers but I also realise that I’m not entitled to get one, let alone quickly. In order to enhance my chances I put in as much – perhaps sometimes too much! – information as I can. This includes some combination from the following list:

  • the system release we are on
  • a description of what I’m looking for or trying to achieve
  • what I already tried and the results of that
  • what I searched for thus far
  • what I already found out, if anything
  • relevant screenshots, working from the premise that “a picture says more than a thousand words”
  • code snippets if applicable

What to do once answers start coming in?

My experiences with answers to my questions have been quite positive. I often received just the reply I was hoping for (like here, even within 1 hour!). Some fellow community members lent a helping hand to walk me through the steps patiently (like Rob Dielemans and Mike Pokraka here, here and here) or the question triggered a lively discussion like when I asked How to get contracted developers to read and adhere to development guidelines. Unless I forget or in rare cases where the answer or comment isn’t actually relevant for my question I at least aknowledge responses by an upvote or like as a way to say “thank you for your time to provide an answer”. More often than not, I also respond with a comment of my own to let the responder know how I’m making use of her/his suggestion.

Once the discussion has run its course, I’ll try to pick the best answer. Sometimes, this is easy because there was exactly one helpful answer which “did the trick” and helped me solve my issue. At other times, it’s not quite as easy. This can be the case when the final solution turned out to be a combination gleaned from various answers and comments provided by several community members. Whenever that happens, I add my own answer describing what I implemented and then pick  that as the helpful answer. This is not ideal and I’d rather have an option to pick more than one answer as helpful to really give credit where credit is due. The other thing I’ve done is to add a comment to describe my next steps and to at least make use of @-mentions to thank the community members who helped me to get there.

What I rarely do now is to also close the question as I’d like to keep them open for further answers if anybody has them at a later point in time. This is in part due to the fact, that it’s possible anyway to add further comments to closed questions, so what’s really the point of marking them as closed?

More questions for you!

So, that’s my take on asking questions here in our SAP Community. What’s yours? What has been working for you in order to get answers? How do you pick and chose the questions you then provide answers to?

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10 Comments

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  1. Susan Keohan

    Hi  Bärbel Winkler and thank you for writing this!

    What I look for when attempting to answer a question is to see if the OP has done their own due diligence.  So a question like ‘My requirements are to do A, B, and C.  Please advise.’ will not get anything from me.

    I’m more likely to try to answer a question – or at least provide some tips for finding a solution if I see a question like:

    ‘I have a custom workflow that is for approval of vendor invoices, and when I start it, I get ‘Error occurred while generating PDF of Invoice’ in a background task, and the workflow goes into error. We are running on SAP_BASIS 46c,  I’ve looked at SAP Support for the error message ‘Blah-Blah-Blah’ but haven’t found anything there.  I’ve tried debugging the method, and it all works as expected, but when the task is executed through the workflow, it fails with the blah-blah-blah error message’ .

    On the other hand, too many code ‘snippets’ – or a dump of a 3000 line program – is not likely to generate a lot of interest to me.  To me, it indicates that the OP has not tried to narrow down the problem, and is hoping a code-dump will just magically help us to solve the problem.

     

    I’m so glad you had a positive experience with some of the experts in the workflow forum (cough cough).

    Keep up the good work!
    Sue

     

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    1. Bärbel Winkler Post author

      Thanks, Susan, both for your comment and the initial suggestion to write this blog post. To me, suggestions like yours are helpful in order to get a better idea what might be of interest for others to read.

      Cheers

      Baerbel

       

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  2. Jelena Perfiljeva

    A lovely blog, as usual! 🙂 What also stands out in your question list screenshot is that most have a green check mark next to them, i.e. they’ve been marked as answered.

    I feel that we get from SAP Community exactly what we bring. Posting meaningful questions and then following up on them will trigger fast response from the helpful Community members. Doing the opposite will have the corresponding effect.

    Well, now we have the whole collection of blogs on this, so I guess all we need is a workflow to make people read them. 🙂

     

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  3. Lucia Subatin

    Hi, Baerbel,

    This is, IMO, right on the money.  I would say screenshots are what help me help others most of the time, so I use them a lot. If I am completely clueless about where the error is coming from, I give as much context as possible, even if that means describing how I was taking my coffee when the error happened. Adding to your list, key configuration files, folder/object structure, environment variables, other objects/users/scenarios that are working and how they are different from what is not working. Any type of context may be of help when you cannot ask what you do not know.

    “I also realise that I’m not entitled to get one, let alone quickly”. I wish everybody understood that. Acknowledging we are asking for help, make life as easy as possible for those lending us a hand and being grateful (that includes closing questions and upvoting — some people in the community get actual cookies from me). This is the least I think I can do if I am borrowing someone’s time.

     

    More about respecting someone’s time, if I am asking for help, I understand I need to keep frustration to myself unless I have constructive criticism to provide (and then own it). I also assume I am the one doing something wrong because, as you said, there are plenty of us and it is unlikely that I am doing something that has not been done or tested before.

    I have countless examples of people who “ask for help” with asseverations such as “this product is full of bugs” or “the documentation is wrong” and spend the few initial seconds of attention span whining about how they know everything, but failed to perform a basic task that everybody else succeeded at. From the helping side, my attention is gone to those who encounter an actual problem.

    Thanks for putting this together and good luck with those workflows,

    Lucia.

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    1. Jelena Perfiljeva

      Lucia, this seems like a great attitude. Not just on SCN but IRL as well. I too understand that my question is a request for a favor, essentially. So it’s on me to make it easier for others to help me. If I go to a teammate to ask for help, I would show them what I’ve tried. If I started asking “hey, can you just explain me this [rather complex process] in detail / look over 3000 lines of code here” soon people would start hiding from me. 🙂

      It’s also a good idea to offer too much information rather than too little (the exception would be only, as Susan noted, dumping the whole program into the question).

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  4. Michelle Crapo

    OK – so I see the need to look for the answer, phrase the question right….

    Here’s the big BUT coming.  But do you remember when you first started with SAP questions here or anywhere for that matter.  Sometimes you didn’t phrase the question correctly.  Hence you didn’t find anything useful in the searches you  are doing.

    So if they don’t phrase it correctly, and you don’t want to answer it – skip it. ( Craig Cmehil ).  Try to get it right of course.  But if you can’t no big deal – people will ignore your post.

    Too much junk on the community site….  That is the problem.  Can’t we archive the question?  Or do something with it  after a certain amount of time.

    This blog is – of course wonderful.  Hopefully, it will help out a first time poster.

     

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