I have previously written an article about the importance of a project manager asking in-depth questions at the outset of a project and how knowing which questions to ask and, more importantly, how to elicit clear, detailed answers is critical to the success of a project. The article lists 20 questions all project manager should ask but recognises that this is just a starting point and a project manager should aim to get into the habit of asking searching questions about every aspect of a project from initiation right through to the final delivery stage.
But, of course, asking searching questions of often easier said than done – it takes a certain amount of tact and diplomacy to approach senior executives with a list of questions and project managers can often feel that continued, detailed questioning reflects less a desire for the project to be a success than of the project manager’s own lack of understanding. There will certainly be some senior managers who see it this way but if you explain the importance of the questioning, hopefully, the response will be different.
But a project manager should also recognise, with tact, that elusive answers are often the result of a lack of full understanding on the part of the people expected to know the answers. There may not be enough detail in the answers simply because nobody understands the area well enough but no-one will admit it!
It could also be that people do not know exactly what is expected of them so supplying examples about the type of answer expected may help to define your expectations as the project manager.
One of the areas that most commonly cause problems in projects because of a lack of documented detail is the assumptions that have been made. By their very nature they are difficult to elicit from people because of the very fact that they are rarely considered or thought about. And whether assumptions are made about areas of responsibility, business knowledge or what the business objectives and expected benefits of a project are, all assumptions are likely to create real problems within a project as it progresses.
So developing a questioning nature is a very useful project management skill and if you make an effort to explain the importance of a seeming barrage of questions and tactfully assist people to provide detailed answers it is likely to lead to more consistently successful project delivery, which is bound to have a positive effect on your career.