Success comes from asking the proper questions, not from knowing all of the answers. Understanding and embracing this concept was the largest paradigm shift that I had ever experienced.
Years ago, I worked at a well-known tech company. One of the heavily enforced rules was that we were not permitted to take any notes. No notes. I remember asking the management team how they expected us to be successful if we could not learn in the manner in which we had grown accustomed. To this, they stated that they did not want us learn everything! They wanted us to learn how to dissect conversations to uncover the root cause of a problem. From identifying that root cause, we’d be able to go directly to the document that housed the solution steps. Saving time and money.
Exceptional Project Management
A similar concept exists within the project management discipline. Project managers would have to live many lifetimes to know the answers to every problem presented to them. Since you can’t know it all, how are you going to be exceptional?
Your exceptionalism lives in your conversations with your project team, your subject matter experts, your executive sponsors, and through reading case studies.
To make sure you begin on the right foot, I’ve listed my top 10 questions that every project manager should ask.
1. Is there a Project Charter, User Story, or Job Story outlining the project fundamentals?
Having a project initiation document, by way of the examples listed above, will point your project team in the right direction. Templates are easily accessible on-line.
2. Are the project goals SMART? (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound)
SMART goals are not only used during annual review time. They are also used to determine whether a project should move forward. It will also uncover additional questions.
3. Is there key personnel that must be on the project team?
Has your executive team already uncovered their top performers? Have they already created the bandwidth necessary for those top performers to devote uninterrupted time to your initiative?
4. Is your executive sponsor the driver for the initiative?
Not all executive sponsors want to be executive sponsors. Sometimes they are chosen due to the areas that they manage, but they’d rather be doing other things. Take time to understand the motivations of your executive sponsor. Are they impacted by the success or failure of your project? Will they share the importance of the project to the team based upon their actions or will they make your role more difficult by not showing support?
5. Has the project team worked together before?
All teams cycle through phases. The phases are forming, storming, norming, and performing as introduced in 1965 by Bruce Tuckman. Teams that have worked together previously achieve the performing phase much faster. They focus on the team goals more than their individual goals. Your role as project manager is to move your team to the performing phase as quickly as possible.
6. Do you have the resources required to complete the project?
What do you need to run a successful project? Utilizing a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) will assist you in determining your resource needs.
7. What is the definition of done (DOD) for your project?
If you’ve ever worked on a project that never seemed to end, then the definition of done was not solidified. Per the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), projects are unique and have a specified end. When out of scope items continually become in scope items, you are losing control of your project. Instead of having a project, it has turned into a business as usual item. Be sure to reel it back in and ask the executive sponsor the criteria to test for project completion.
8. Who’s the end-user?
Determine who will be on the receiving end of your project. Who are you doing this for and will they be represented on your project team?
9. What is your level of influence?
Your level of influence depends upon the business’s organizational structure. Is it a Functional, Matrix, Hybrid, or Projectized culture. As you may have guessed, most project managers prefer a projectized culture. Within this type of structure, it’s more likely to have a dedicated project team and control over more aspects of your initiative.
10. Is there anything that I don’t know to ask you?
This is one of the most important questions to ask of your executive sponsor. There will always be something that will never be written down, but something that could mean the success or failure of your project. Be sure to ask.
Your success is right around the corner or at least close to your best question.
Veronica Lane, PMP, PMI-ACP
Founder & CEO, Project Manager Guru, Inc.