If you have been working in project management for a while, there is one thing you’ll know, and that is that in project management there are no certainties. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to bring control and order to your next project and that starts by asking the essential questions at the outset.
Whether your next project is a brand new one, or a project that is already underway and that you are either being brought in to help with or to replace a project manager who has left, the very first thing that you will need to do in either of these circumstances is to make a list of questions that you need to ask. Getting the right answers to the right questions will give you the information that you need to go ahead and plan out the project, including knowing what timescales you must work with, what resources you’ll need and, of course, what is your budget.
Here are just some of the essential questions you might consider asking.
What questions should you consider before you start a project?
What is this project delivering?
The project you are about to embark on may have just one deliverable; a product, website, an event. However, many projects are made up of a few elements that need to be completed in a particular order so that they can reach the ultimate end goal. You will need to make sure that your documentation takes this into account and that you offer an easy-to-follow list of the items that you need your team to deliver.
Ensuring that you understand the project fully is vital so that you can offer the right list of deliverables to your team, and in the right order.
What is the project not delivering?
As well as understanding what the project needs to include, you also need to know what it does not include. Scope creep can happen all too easily in a project, and you want to make sure that you avoid it by having a clearly defined idea of exactly what you should, and more importantly shouldn’t be doing.
If you are taking over a project, make sure you go over this information again with the stakeholder. You do not want any nasty surprises where the previous project manager has agreed to something less obvious, but it has been missed off the plan or is completely unnecessary.
What is the deadline?
Most projects will have a deadline and having one to work to is a good thing as it can help you to plan and stay focused. Find out what the deadline your stakeholder has for the project is. Is there any margin for going over the deadline? Or is it “set in stone”?
If you are taking over a project, are they on schedule for the deadline, or is it unrealistic for the work left? Talk to your stakeholder if it is the latter.
Who is your contact?
This may seem like an odd question, particularly if you are working with a dedicated project team but if an emergency occurs in the project you need to know exactly who you should be contacting, and make sure you find out how they prefer to be contacted, email, phone call, via an assistant?
You may also want to take the time to find out how much and what type of contact they want as the project progresses. Weekly or daily updates reports or just quick emails. Communication is one of your most important project management skills, so make sure you are using it effectively.
What is the benchmark for success?
Possibly one of the most important questions you will ask is exactly what the benchmark for the success of the project is. Whilst the goal you have been given may appear straightforward you need to be sure that you know exactly what it is your stakeholders and clients are hoping to achieve with the project, and why they have embarked on this particular project.
If you are joining a project that has already started check with the cline that their goal for the project hasn’t changed since it began so that you can ensure you are on the right track.
Who is doing the work?
Whilst many of the questions you will ask are likely to be directed to the stakeholders, they are not the only ones involved in the project. Your project team are vital to the success of the project, so make time to speak with them. You may already know some of them from previous projects, but you need to know exactly who has the right skills for different parts of the project so that workloads can be allocated accordingly. Get to know everyone and their skillset to ensure that you have the right team for the project. If you have a skill that is missing, then now is the time to approach the stakeholder for this additional resource.
Who is the intended audience?
A project has more than just 2 sets of stakeholders, but we often forget about the third. In addition to the people asking for the work to be done and the people doing the work, there is also the group of people who the work is aimed at; the people who might purchase the product or interact with it. It is just as important to find out who this audience is as any of the other elements of the project. If you don’t know who the target audience is, you cannot do any research to ensure that the project fits the brief fully.
Has a similar project been done before?
Even when you think your project is completely innovative, there is a good chance you will find some form of precedent out there for it. It can be a good idea to do a little research and see what has already been done, including what worked well, and what didn’t as this could help you with the project you are about to embark on.