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Questions a Project Manager Should Ask When Starting a New Project

Updated on October 9, 2017
Max Dalton profile image

Max earned his project management professional (PMP) certification in 2013. He holds an MA in Communication from U of I.

Introduction

There is key information that is critical to gather within the first few weeks of working on a new project that will set the tone and drive the rest of the project. Important elements to pull together include:

  • why the business is moving forward with this project,
  • who the point person is for the entire project,
  • whether the target due date is a hard line in the sand,
  • what are the criteria for project success,

and more. This article gives an overview of all the key elements you'll need to gather to help you ensure your project gets off on the right foot.

Does the Business Understand the Value Proposition?

This is perhaps the most important question you can ask. The decision around whether or not proposed work gets turned into a formal project should be largely based off of the business case, which should contain the value proposition associated with this work. As a project manager, if you can't find a business case, work through the channels available to you and see if you can find one to look at this information. If there is no business case, that's a red flag that the business may be preparing to engage in work that hasn't been clearly thought out, and there's the risk that the business may spend a lot of money but not get anything in return.

Before you move forward with the project, it's your job to raise the red flag to the necessary parties and work to build a business case and associated value proposition if one doesn't already exist. You want to make everyone is clear about what that case is is before moving forward with the project.

However, if the project is being driven from a much higher level, you may get pressure to forego creating a business case and to keep moving forward with the project. This is a business decision, and as long as you have it documented that you did try to create a business case, you should have your bases covered in the event the project becomes a money pit and the C-suite starts asking why the business is even running that project in the first place.

Having a clear understanding of the value proposition helps ensure the business doesn't move forward with projects that won't return any value.
Having a clear understanding of the value proposition helps ensure the business doesn't move forward with projects that won't return any value. | Source

Is There an Executive Project Sponsor?

It is mission critical to make sure before the project starts that you know who the high-level direction for a project will come from. If you're working on a project where there are a lot of senior people involved, any one of them can start acting like they are running the show when that isn't really the case. There should always be an executive sponsor who supplies guidance and leadership at a higher level, and that's where marching orders should come from. This person will be critical in determining what the project requirements ultimately are, and will also be someone the project manager can lean on to pull other senior leaders back in line and break down barriers to help keep things moving.

Has the Business Run a Similar Project?

You need to ask around and see if the business has run a project similar to the project that you'll be working on before. If the business has run a similar project, you may be able to dig up all of the documents and artifacts associated with that project, and leverage that information for your project. For example, if there's a document reflecting on the lessons learned you could work to avoid some of the mistakes that plagued that project. Additionally, you could look at some of the risks the project team documented throughout the project and see if those are legitimate threats to your project. Also, you could look at the members of the project team to see if there are people who are still with the company that you could explore pulling into your project. Even if you can't pull those people into your project, you should be able to reach out and have a conversation with them about the similar project they worked on.

How to Get Project Requirements from Stakeholders

Is There a Date by Which the Project Must Be Done?

Sometimes the deadline that gets put forward for a project at the beginning is a soft date and there's no real impact if that date slips. However if the target date that's been put forward for your project is a hard date—the date is inflexible and there is no room for slippage—you need to know that. Knowing that the date is inflexible should drive you to fully analyze the work that needs to be done and be very realistic and honest in the schedule that you build. Additionally, if after building up an honest schedule you feel like there's the risk that the project may not complete on that date, you can have a conversation with the business owner at the beginning of the project, rather than further down the line, about reducing the scope of the project.

Having clear definitions of success lets the business circle back after a period of time and validate it is getting the value it assumed it would when it decided to move forward with the project.
Having clear definitions of success lets the business circle back after a period of time and validate it is getting the value it assumed it would when it decided to move forward with the project. | Source

What Will Define Project Success?

The definition of project success is another must-have going into a new project. This information is something you should be able to derive after looking at the value proposition in the business case. For example, if you're working as a project manager for a cable company and the value proposition associated with this project is that you will see a 10% bump in subscribers over the course of a year, then you should consider defining success as seeing a 10% bump in subscribers one year after the project completes. It's good to have at least two to three metrics you can use to measure project success.

What Skills Will Be Needed on the Project Team?

It's never too early to start thinking about who you'll want to include on a project team. Resources are very tight in some places, and everyone wants the best people on their team. As a result, it's important to start building a list of skill sets you'd like to see in your team members so you can start identifying the people you'll want to pull into the project, checking their availability, and potentially laying claim to them over the duration where you feel like you'll need them on your project.

© 2017 Max Dalton

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