Seven Smart Project Questions You Need to Master

Making progress on a complex project requires a lot of onion peeling. And it can bring tears to your eyes. Some people are naturally inquisitive and asking the next question comes easy. Others struggle. In this blog, I offer seven smart project questions that you need to master. Learning to start with these questions will help you understand what comes next.

A big part of working with clients who haven’t yet figured out what they want is learning to ask the right questions. I frequently work with clients who haven’t figured out what they want. For the client who is price conscious, one solution is to simply have the client draw/write out what they want. But some clients can’t do that.

Sometimes figuring out the solution to a problem is all about trial and error and asking questions is an integral part of the process. So, we are often asking questions such as:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • Who is going to do that?
  • When is the deadline?
  • What might happen if we did “X”?

In my capacity as a project manager, I often work with clients that don’t know what they want. How can we help people figure out what they want with so many options and too little time for exploring the options? By asking the right questions.

What is your objective?

I’ve written about this a lot. And yet there is often confusion — particularly when you are undertaking a project in phases. Some people will want to focus on the longer-term objective. Others will be focused on what needs to happen in the current phase. Others on the team may be more focused on the objective for the particular activity that they are working on.

There are no ironclad rules here. If you are the project manager or project sponsor, ask yourself which objective will most likely help your team rally when the going gets tough. The important part is to define a crystal clear objective that everyone understands.

Activities might well be explained with an objective, but this is different from the project objective. Everyone needs to know the project objective. I like to think of it this way. If the CEO gets on the elevator and asks what you are working on, do you have an answer?

Why are you taking on this project?

Once you’ve identified that crystal clear objective, ask why you are doing it. This is how you move from a statement on paper to an objective that captures people’s hearts.

How will you define success?

Suppose your project is to develop a complex web application for a client. What result needs to happen before you throw a victory party? Keep in mind that software development is a never-ending process. There will always be another tweak that you could make. Is there a soft-launch date, followed by a hard-launch date? Does the client have market success expectations that he/she has not told you about?

For another example, take a non-profit event. Is success measured by money raised, fully engaged volunteers, participating localities, paying attendees, or good publicity?

The important part here is to define, in writing, what will constitute success, in a way that can be measured. And while you are at it, define failure.

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