Project Management as a profession has to be one of the most elusive to define. Should anyone enquire as to what you do for a living, your reply is almost guaranteed to provoke some puzzled follow-up questions.
Maybe the best way to answer this question would be just to list the skills you need to have and the ways in which you are expected to apply them:
- Leadership, to forge ahead and often create something from nothing – and inspire others to follow.
- Negotiation, to reconcile competing demands and viewpoints and fulfil the brief at the end of it.
- Accountancy, to control and allocate funds appropriately and keep enough in reserve to look impressive!
- Technical, possibly to directly manage the technical aspects of the brief, or at least to effectively manage those that manage the technical aspects…
Whilst greatly impressing the questioner with the scope of your abilities, it is all too easy to forget the key thing that is required of us. The skill that, without which all other things would collapse. Or perhaps we simple take it, and our ability to do it, for granted.
It is our ability to ask questions effectively that really defines us as Project Managers, and if you’ll forgive some rather grand sentiment, as human beings also.
Why do we need to ask questions?
- Primarily to avoid assumptions. If we don’t question then we assume. These assumptions will be about what the business objectives are, what the benefits of the project are, about who is responsible for what, and about what is expected of us.
- To calm natural enthusiasms for the new endeavour and allow the opportunity to really focus on the essential preparation stages. In these challenging economic times great care must be taken to ensure that everything is directed towards creating the maximum benefit for the business, and that these benefits are quantifiable.
What questions do we need to ask?
These are just a few of the really fundamental ones. Certainly not exhaustive, and of course they will alter and be supplemented by others depending on the nature of the project.
Feel free to add your own, print them out, and give them pride of place on your desk. They really are that important!
- What are the business objectives you hope to meet?
- What benefit will these bring to the business?
- What consequences will failure bring to the business?
- What are the pros & cons of conducting this project?
- Which senior manager is driving the project? Never the Project Manager.
- Who is responsible for securing adequate resources for the project?
- What are the criteria for judging success or failure of project?
- Who will decide whether the project outcomes will be implemented?
- Will ‘deliverables’ need to be tested, and by whom?
- Any impact on staff? Redundancies, training etc.
It goes without saying that simply asking these questions is not enough. They should be answered appropriately and completely, and these answers should provide the structure for the rest of the project.