The moment somebody throws a question at you, something along the lines of ‘We need to get this done’, your project management ‘hat’ should already be firmly on your head before the sentence is even finished. The questions that should be now flying through your head, include ‘what do I need to do, who do I need on board, what issues are there and how can they be resolved’. Eight questions follow, that can help you hone your response times.
- What is the ultimate goal?This one of the most important questions, not least because it is going to define the size of the project. As project manager you need to have a handle on the size of the project, so that it can be planned and prepared accordingly. To do this, you have to first understand what it is that needs to be accomplished, in other words what is the ultimate aim of the project. At this early stage, nobody expects you to have all of the details worked out with a fine toothed comb, but you should have enough to hand in order to ’size up’ the project.
- Who needs to be involved?Now that you have an idea of what needs to be accomplished, you need to begin building your team and deciding who are going to be the planners and who will be the ‘doers’. Make up a list of people that you think you are going to need for your project, and put a mental check mark next the ones you think would be better suited for the planning process. When you reach the end of the list, you will have two project tiers – planners, and doers. Right now you may have a feel for how large, or small, that your team needs to be but you need to be aware that you can only provide estimates at this stage, and you may need to rethink size and structure as new information becomes available.
- What are the parameters of the project?The parameters, or the constraints, of a project are those things must or must not be there. For example, one constraint may be a set deadline that must not be broken. As project manager, you must make sure that you know what needs to happen in order for the project to be completed by that set date.
- How will you know whether or not the project was a success?This question is usually overlooked, but it is actually a really good one to ask. It is something that encourages a view of the end game. Once you and your team have put all your skills and resources into creating and deploying your project, how will you know if it was a success or not? Define, right at the start, what project is going to be measured by in terms of success or failure.
- Have any assumptions been made about your project?We have all done it, made assumptions, and they nearly always turn out bad. If people associated with your project, investors and marketers especially, make assumptions then they run the risk of derailing your project. A marketer, for example, may have made the assumption that a rough deadline was in fact the ’set in stone’ deadline and began making moves to announce it. This could have disastrous results, and it is your responsibility to uncover these assumptions and nip them in the bud as soon as possible.
- What has to be done?Looking at the project from above, seeing the larger milestones as building blocks, what do you see as being a logical way forward? How do get from one milestone to the next? You may find it easier to break the large milestones down into smaller ones, to make the process easier to visualise. Some kind of infographic may help to get everybody ‘on the same page’ and working in the same direction.
- Do you have a rough project schedule?Has the date of completion already been decided? Very often ‘end dates’ are just estimates, but you need to have a date of some kind so you can better prepare and plan your project timetable.
- What could get between this project and success?The final consideration in our list, recognising the fact that not everything is always plain sailing. Is a resource supplier going to go out of business any time soon, are there any local rules or regulations that could interfere with the project or prevent it from being completed all together? As project manager you need to have the answers to these and more in order to nullify any risks as they present themselves.
Answering these questions should be as instinctual as saying ‘ouch’ when somebody kicks you in the shin. If you can do that, then you have a great chance of managing a successful project. If you are unsure of any aspect of a project and how best to manage it why not consider one of the professional project management courses in a recognised methodology; PM training will help you to develop your skills further.
Michelle Symonds is a qualified PRINCE2 Project Manager and believes that the right project management training can transform a good project manager into a great project manager and is essential for a successful outcome to any project.
There is a wide range of formal and informal training courses now available that include online learning and podcasts as well as more traditional classroom courses from organizations such as Parallel Project Training.
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