Tuesday, February 6, 2007

February 6, 2007 – 5 Questions PMs should Ask

Nearly 90% of Project Management is communication. From status meetings to project plans, scope statements to presentations and resource issues to crisis management we are constantly communicating. In order to do this successfully we need to ask the right questions. As a follow up from the previous entry entitled “5 Things Not to Say During a Meeting” you need to ask these 5 questions instead.

What are you thinking?
Unless you are a mind reader, finding out what your business group and end users want can be as frustrating as this question. When gathering requirements this question needs to be asked multiple times and in various ways. The objective is to fully understand the business problem and any clues to the solution they may have.

Are we there yet?
If you have ever traveled with children you have heard “Are we there yet?” a thousand times over and over again. The answer should be obvious to anyone since the car is still in the same traffic jam it was 3 minutes ago when it was asked. While it is annoying for a 5 year old to ask it, it is one of the top 5 questions Project Managers should be asking the team. The answer to this question gives you the current status of the effort but, if asked in the right way, can also keep the project from over delivering. If your programmers forget to stop where they are supposed to and deliver more than what was asked for it could put you over budget and out of time.

How much farther?
It doesn’t matter how many times you calmly explain how much longer it is going to take, upper management always wants you to get there sooner. As a project manager you need to know where you are and how long it is going to take to get to done. Your team members are the only ones able to give you an honest answer. As part of the status reporting process, ask the team to re-estimate major tasks every week so you can adjust the Estimates to Complete.

What is your problem?
Most people take offense when this question is asked. The job of the project manager is to eliminate problems and keep obstacles out of the project’s path. By asking the question early and often you have a chance at staying ahead of the issues.

This is possibly the most annoying question of all time. “Why” makes you dig to understand the purpose behind a comment or request. In Change Management the question is used determine the real intent and necessity of the new request. For Issue Management it forces people to get to the root cause of the problem. When dealing with interpersonal issues it makes you dig beyond the current conflict. The answers to “Why?” can be painful if the result is that someone has to admit their shortcomings.

When you ask any of these questions with the right amount of agitation in your voice and a bewildered look on your face you run the risk of being slapped. You might want to change the wording, but make sure you get the right answers.

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