8 Questions Project Managers Should Ask About Project Planning

Project Planning Reflex Check for Project Managers

Do you remember the last time you had a physical? One of the things the doctor checks for is how well your reflexes are responding. He takes out the small mallet and then hits it right below your kneecap. Your knee involuntarily springs forward as your reflexes kick in. Other examples of reflexes include pulling your hand away from a hot stove, tickling and blushing. These are all involuntary reactions to outside stimuli that the body automatically provides a response.

Project Managers: How are Your Reflexes When it Comes to Project Planning?

Your project management reflexes should be razor sharp. For example, the moment that anybody says “we need to get this done” you should automatically kick into project manager mode. What needs to be done? How it’s going to be accomplished? What obstacles are there and how can they be removed? Who do I need on the team to get the project done? Here are eight questions to help hone your project management reflexes

#1. What Needs to be Accomplished?

This first question is critically important because it defines the size of your project universe. You need to understand as a project manager the relative size of the project to do that you must first understand what needs to be accomplished. Remember,  when you are talking about project planning there is no way this early in the process that you will have all the details you need. But, you should have enough information about the project to size it up as Small, Medium, or Large.The answer to this first question helps provide a basis for the questions to follow.

#2. Who Needs to Participate?

You need to understand who needs to participate now that you have an idea of what needs to be accomplished. Project participation occurs at two levels. There are those that are involved in the ‘planning’ process and those that are involved in the ‘doing’ process. The tricky part about project planning is making sure you have the right people involved on both sides of the project. Go down the list in your head of all the executives, functional managers and other stakeholders that need to be involved in the planning process to build an understanding of who is going to be involved, and what work will be done. At this point, you may have an instinctive feel for how large the team needs to be based on the size of the project. Again, at this point in the project planning process, you must make educated estimates and know they may change as information becomes available.

#3. What Parameters Must You Work Within?

A 3rd question well-trained project managers ask about project planning is what are the constraints of this project? Constraints are anything that is either not there or must be there. For example, a constraint that “is not there” might be that the software testing team is not going to be available during the time scheduled for testing on this project. You know that you’ll need to find a different team to accomplish the testing. A constraint that “is there” is a deadline that must be met. For example, a trade show at the end of the 3rd quarter at which the new product must be displayed. You will have to figure out as a project manager what needs to be done in order to deliver within this date.

#4. How Will You Know if This Project is Successful?

This is a great question to ask that is typically overlooked, that encourages you as the project manager to ‘start out with the end in mind’. Once we have expended all of the effort, energy, and resources necessary to complete this project…how will we know it was successful? So many teams find themselves blazing forward without the answer to this question only to find themselves becoming terribly disappointed at the end. Define from the start the measures of project success that you work towards.

#5. What Have Assumptions Been Made About this Project?

We’re all familiar with the saying about what happens when you make assumptions. For example, the constraint identified above about the regular testing team may have been an assumption on the part of somebody else. Somebody may have committed to meeting a certain date on the assumption that the team was available. As a project manager, it is your responsibility to uncover any assumption and respond to the reality of each situation.

#6. What Needs to Be Done?

This question is one level deeper than ‘what needs to be accomplished’. We’re not talking about a full-blown project plan with dependencies and resources all nicely put into place. We are talking about a high-level overview of the big rocks that will help us get over the stream. These are the major milestones that pave the way from the beginning to the end of the project. Your view about project planning may be to break this down into phases of the project with high-level deliverables identified for each phase. This at least gets everyone thinking in the same direction and begins to identify anything that has been left out.

#7. What is a Rough Project Schedule?

What time frame is being discussed? Ask the question of whether an end date has already been decided. Often people are reluctant to come out with this information which is not to say a date is not already set. “You said we could do what? Are you kidding me? That’s impossible!” rings through the ears of someone who commits the company to a hard end date. It is important for you to know, nonetheless, as it will help with your planning and resource activities.

#8. What Could Prevent this Project from Being Successful?

The final question is, what could bring this project to a grinding halt? Is there a single-tracked vendor that could decide to do something else and leave the project hanging? Are there rules or laws in a State that could shut this project down in the blink of an eye? You need to have the answers to these questions in order to identify the risk your project is exposed to and put plans in place to mitigate risks as they occur.

There you have it…8 questions to ask about project planning. These questions should be as instinctive and reflexive as when you touch a hot stove or someone tickles you in that one spot that drives you crazy! Keeping these 8 questions about project planning in mind will help your projects be that much more successful.

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