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Whether it’s kids working their way through the world, or high-brow Socratic teaching looking for the answers to the universe, questions are the basis of getting the information that helps to paint a picture.
So why do so many projects get started with half the team wondering what is actually expected of them?
Imposter syndrome can stop those who don’t want to be made to look foolish. Disinterest prevents some from delving deeper. A jam-packed schedule makes others skip the questions to save a bit of time.
But the result is always the same. Issues that are left unchecked snowball and end up derailing your project, when you could have saved yourself all that trouble with a few simple questions at the outset. That’s why we’re here with some common sense questions for project managers that set the stage for success.
We’ll cover the basic questions to ask when joining a new project and delve deep into tips and tricks that can further improve your efforts. So if you’re looking for a way to plan your projects like a pro, read on!
Although you’d think this is top of the list for which question is typically addressed by a project forecast, it’s more common than you’d think for people to forget the actual purpose of what they’re doing. First on your list of questions for project managers should be what the macro aim is, and it should have a simple answer. Increased revenue, new markets, more followers, reduced overheads, and improved customer satisfaction are all perfect examples of overall goals.
The reason this question is so important is that it’s easy to get pulled into a quagmire of what you really should be doing. If you find the answer is “because our competitors did it”, you need to investigate further into whether you should respond in kind or observe with a masterly inactivity.
On the subject of masterly inactivity, your questions for project managers should always consider what would happen if you didn’t run with the project. It’s easy to fall into the trap of blasting ahead with a series of tasks to feel like you’re doing something, but ultimately, if your efforts could be better spent elsewhere, take the more practical option. By avoiding the project altogether, you can deploy your team to more productive activities, or finally complete those jobs that have been on the back burner.
Of course there are often consequences that simply need to be addressed in your project analysis. They could be as drastic as a crippled reputation, or as simple as losing a new demographic to your competitors. By analyzing the consequences, you can often supplement the primary and secondary objectives of your project.
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times — if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.
Rather than frantically beginning a project with no clear idea of where you’re going, one of the most basic questions for project managers is what your KPIs will be. KPIs are the benchmarks that allow you to measure success, and can vary wildly depending on the project.
Classic examples of project KPIs include:
Increased customer database
Improved efficiency of a process
Reduced overhead costs
All of these examples are very easy to track as long as you set up your analytics correctly at the beginning of the project. To keep your project on track, you should always have your eyes on the KPIs. Agile teams typically use Kanban boards with each KPI pinned in a column, visible to everybody at a glance.
The best laid plans can fall to pieces if you’ve overlooked your key stakeholders. Whether it’s legal entities, decision-makers within your team, or external suppliers, you need everybody on board and informed from day one of your project.
Although this is one of the most common project manager questions, it still needs a thorough revision during your project analysis. Typical stakeholders include:
Those who may suffer as a result of your work
Each stakeholder needs their own attention. For example, if you have a constant obstacle within your company, perhaps a finance manager reluctant to release funds, your project strategy should include ways to overcome issues. Similarly, if you’re in construction, you’ll have to figure out a PR strategy to convince local residents to give your plans the green light.
Failure to identify who your stakeholders are and how you should deal with them opens the door for all kinds of unexpected disruption when it’s least welcome.
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With a clear understanding of where you want to be and who is involved, the next questions for project management should revolve around the key decisions you’ll need to make. Use your project analysis to identify the most important steps to take and what may get in the way of these decisions.
Some of your key decisions will rely on getting the OK from your stakeholders. For example, if you need an extraordinary budget to get your project off the ground, you’ll need an extraordinary proposal to present to the key decision-makers.
Of course, there are some decisions that a project manager has the authority to make themselves. These are still among the most important project questions to ask early in the game. Plenty of decisions have the potential to be misinterpreted or put some of your stakeholders at a disadvantage. Therefore, you need to be prepared to justify your key decisions before you get started.
When you’re in a high pressure situation, the last thing you want is to be blocked by administrative processes. Therefore, choosing a system that puts you all on the same page and in agreement is one of the most important questions for project managers before getting started. Forget transfers from one system to another, 20 different logins, and clunky integrations patching everything together. Get on the same system from the beginning and you will cut out all kinds of difficulties further down the line.
The first place to start is with your project management software. With visibility for all interested parties and clear, concise communication within the platform itself, you avoid losing information during data transfers. Collaborative documents are another great addition. Rather than sending a stream of new versions via email, you can all work simultaneously on the same file and keep a handy history for whenever you need to look back at previous drafts.
The best teams are those that never seem to sit still. They’re always on the lookout for ways to improve, and all that hard work behind the scenes manifests itself as a seemingly effortless approach to the projects themselves.
When we speak about streamlining, we don’t mean making half the team redundant and piling twice the work on the unfortunate souls that are left. Instead, one of the smartest ways to streamline your processes is through task automation.
As a general rule, if a task seems boring, repetitive, and unfulfilling, it’s a prime candidate for automation. We’re talking task assignment, document reviews, recurring events, and almost overdue reminders. Forget having to check the progress of each task on the hour, every hour, and outsource some of your work to algorithms.
You can cut out a serious amount of wasted time and effort by looking to the past for answers. There’s no better feeling than applying lessons learned, so make sure to include hindsight in your questions to ask when joining a new project.
With every project, you should be gathering data for analytics. It doesn’t even need to be too complex — time management tools are a great place to start as they can identify where the blockers are or where your team simply didn’t understand the brief.
But it’s not just past errors that you can look at. You can draw on your successes too. Take a vast amount of stress out of your project planning by creating workflow templates that you can copy and paste to get started right away. For even more efficiency, in your post-project reflection, you can adapt your template based on what went right or wrong and make the updates you need while they’re still fresh in the memory.
As a general rule, deadlines are what brings urgency to a project. Without time constraints, it’s easy for tasks to meander, preventing your project from taking shape and leading to frustration. Therefore, one of the most important questions for project managers is the timing of the project.
What is the overall deadline and how can you fit all your tasks into a schedule that allows you to reach that date? One easy way of structuring your deadlines and timetables is with a Gantt chart — a calendar visualization where you can add tasks as building blocks, identifying any free time slots.
Each cluster of tasks can make up a milestone that you can analyze as a team with a video call. These meetings are where you can reflect back on your performance and make strategic decisions for going forward. Agile teams tend to split their projects into “sprints” of one or two weeks. With a daily stand-up meeting to deal with any immediate difficulties and a more extended meeting after each sprint, you increase the chances of keeping your project within scope and under budget.
As the entire purpose behind questions for project managers is to be fully prepared for an upcoming project, what better time to sit down and hash out the expected risks?
Although we’ve left it until the end of the list, risk management should be included in every project analysis session. It is the ultimate guard against nasty surprises, and once you get started, it’s not as hard as you might think.
Hold a meeting where key stakeholders spitball potential risks to the project — rain on an outdoor party, legal licensing issues, or even deliberate attack from rivals. Then you can categorize your risks into those you can avoid altogether, mitigate with in-house efforts, transfer to a third party, or accept as an unavoidable issue.
By including risk management in your questions for project managers, you may need to add a bit of leeway into your original schedule. However, safe in the knowledge you’ve covered all your bases from the outset, you’ll be ready for anything that fate throws your way.
With the ten questions for project managers in our list, you should be significantly more prepared to face issues when you embark upon your projects. They help orient your objectives, your timings, and your allocation of resources — the classic areas that come to mind when thinking about which question is typically addressed by a project forecast.
So now you’ve got your strategy, one of the final project questions to ask is how you will implement it. With Bitrix24, you get a powerful project management platform as well as a vast array of other tools to remove the stress and guesswork.
It’s free to get started, so sign up for Bitrix24 today and see how you can streamline every element of your projects.