The onset of a project is often uncharted territory. You may have an idea of the destination but unsure of how you will get there.
Being a project manager is essentially creating the map that everyone will use. To do this, you need to gather the necessary information to guide the team. This involves asking the essential questions that can help you define the project and its success.
Project management boils down to asking the right questions. But what questions you ask can be the difference between a clear path to the end of the project and a difficult one. Project managers need to take the reins and be the guiding force in understanding the project’s scope.
Driving the Project Through Questions
It is important not to skip the investigative stage at the onset of the project. While this part is not the most exciting, rushing through your project exploration can have costly consequences in terms of time or money.
Start by gathering your resources for a discussion. As you learn more, you may need to bring in additional people to get more perspective. By the end of your interviews, you should fully grasp the scope of the project and the outcome.
As you talk to your resources, be aware that they may not always be forthcoming. They may be intentionally avoiding difficult topics or may simply not be aware that you need the information that they have. It is up to you to continue to probe until you uncover everything about the project.
Good project managers have skills in asking the right questions. They know how to ask follow-up questions when necessary. They also know if avoidance is occurring in answers received and to continue to ask until provided with information.
You also need to be able to interpret the responses provided. Sometimes the answers given are not being heard by management or others on the project. These could include obstacles that could arise during the project.
Make sure that you hear and identify the answers from key stakeholders and take the appropriate action. You need to be able to sort out a valid concern and what merely resistance to change.
You should also be aware of your own biases. This could be the result of your perception of the project and your past experiences. Put yourself in the mindset of your interviewee as you examine responses and the relevance to the project.
The Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Project
As you begin your project, have your list of questions ready – but don’t confine yourself to that list. Actively listen and ask follow-up questions if necessary. You may need to schedule additional discussions based on the answers you receive.
Ensure that you document the answers so that you can refer to them later or share out if necessary. The responses will become integral to your overall project plan.
Here are some examples of questions to ask as a project manager.
What Is Being Delivered?
While some projects may have one final goal or deliverable, many projects involve multiple, smaller steps along the way. These smaller steps need to happen in a sequence to reach the final goal. Create a list of the deliverables expected from the project.
Equally important is what you are not delivering. This is known as “scope creep” and happens when people try to add “extras” to the project without considering the impact. For example, if your project is to build a new website, scope creep might be changing overall company branding at the same time.
Scope creep leads to delays and extra costs. To keep your project on time and within budget, you need to stick to the original scope.
What Are the Timeline and Budget?
All projects have an end date for delivery, and it is important to understand what that is. Once you know the end date, you can start working backward and line up the milestones for hitting that date.
Understanding the deadline and budget will also help you determine the feasibility of the project. Sometimes stakeholders have unrealistic expectations for delivery. Map out the timeline and the time/cost involved so that everyone is on the same page.
If you feel that the deadline or budget cannot be met, speak up. The project may require additional investment, such as more resources. Or, the deadline may need adjustments to accommodate the amount of time each resource can devote.
How Will Success Be Measured?
Some projects have a clear deliverable, such as building a new website. Other projects will need to define success a little differently. For example, if success is launching a new product, will success be defined by completing the product or achieving a specific dollar amount in sales?
You might measure your milestones along the way through project status reports or other reporting. Get a sense of what your stakeholders are expecting in terms of project updates.
Understanding success will help you stay focused. The team can make decisions throughout the project based on the definition of success. Success is the motivating factor behind your project.
Who Are the Resources?
Part of project management is understanding responsibility. Who has the authority to make decisions about the project? How is that information communicated?
You also need to be aware of the people involved in the work on the project. This could include designers, developers, managers, or people that are yet to be hired. These people are going to be the backbone of your project’s progress.
Within the resources, identify any subject-matter experts. There may be go-to people within the team who have a firm grasp of the project and its outcomes, even if they are not in positions of authority. These people can sound the alarm if the project starts to go off the rails.
You should also be aware of any naysayers. These people might be involved in the project begrudgingly. If so, it is important to understand the impact that their contributions (or lack thereof) may have on the project.
Enhance your communication with your resources by finding out their preferred method of communication. Is it email or phone? Understanding how your resources like to communicate will be critical for sharing information and keeping the project running smoothly.
Who is the Project’s Audience?
While stakeholders may have decided to go forward with a project, you need to understand who the recipients will be. With anything related to design or marketing, you are preparing work for potential clients. Other projects have an internal audience, such as implementing a new tool.
Understanding the audience helps you know the potential impact of your project. Sometimes, you have an opportunity for research or surveys among your audience for additional feedback.
If your project impacts how staff will work going forward, your project may need to include new training or additional education. It could also involve hiring new staff or purchasing new equipment. All of these things need to factor into your project timeline.
You should also identify the test cases for your project. Will an internal QA team complete the testing? Or does the project’s true test happen when it reaches end-users or potential clients through marketing?
Has This Been Done Before?
There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Ask yourself if this project is unique or if other companies have taken on similar projects. You can learn from their successes and mistakes.
You can also ask questions about your client’s experience with other projects – even if they were a different type of project. You can inquire about the challenges faced and if the client could stick to the project scope. This will give you a sense of the client’s overall commitment to staying on task.
Are There Any Project Dependencies?
Sometimes a project cannot begin until another project finishes. This could be due to resources or something about the prior project that is critical for the new project.
You should also be aware of any competing priorities that could pull focus from your resources. For example, your resources might have involvement in multiple projects. If there is a conflict in timing, which project takes priority?
If your project is dependent on approval along the way, you should know how that approval will occur and by whom. Outline the turnaround time for approval. You don’t want your project to be stuck waiting on approval for the next step.
What Are the Potential Roadblocks?
Questions about objections can make people uncomfortable. It requires thinking about the “worst-case scenario” and the messy parts of a project. However, you need to be aware of potential problems and have contingencies prepared as much as possible.
The Right Questions for Project Management
The questions you ask will prepare you for taking the lead. Your own success as a project manager is defined by the overall outcome of the project itself. The right questions will get your project off to a good start.