3 Questions Every Project Manager Must Answer
It’s easy for a Project Manager to quickly get wrapped around the axle. Think about your typical day as a Project Manager. It starts with what went wrong the night before and can swiftly go downhill from there!
This deadline was missed, that resource is unexpectedly out of the office, and a deliverable didn’t pass the quality check. Your phone(s) are ringing off the hook, you have five chats going on at the same time across three different countries and your boss just stopped by your desk saying there is an “all-hands on deck” meeting called to discuss the best way to capitalize on this once in a lifetime opportunity for the company. Of course, that means juggling resources, shifting priorities, and even longer days.
Add to this the fact that you are implementing a new project management software package and it’s enough to make you want to put your project manager resume together and find something new. Going somewhere else and starting afresh may sound appealing. But, you know (based upon experience) that no matter where you go you will always encounter the same thing…there’s just not enough time in the day to get things done.
No matter what methodology or project manager software is in place, you know the demands put upon you as a project manager will be many and fierce. This is all besides the fact that project manager jobs seem to be a bit harder to land now than not so long ago.
When you find yourself in this predicament, take a moment to step back and reflect. Look at the big picture. Realize that, despite every fiber in your being telling you otherwise, it’s OK to let some of the smaller things go. You don’t have to have an answer to any and every question that comes up. You just need to be able to know where to find the answers and track them down quickly.
As a matter of fact, there are really only three questions you need to have the answer for at all times as they relate to your project. These three questions are:
1. Where do things stand?
2. What’s next? and,
3. What’s in the way?
Are these three questions a simplistic way of looking at Project Management? Perhaps. But, at its foundation these three questions are what Project Management is all about. No matter how big or how small the project is, having the answer to these three questions will be invaluable to your career as a Project Manager.
1. Where do Things Stand Right Now?
That may seem like a big question, but it can have a pretty simple answer whether you are a construction project manager or an IT project manager. Are your projects on track? Yes or No. Depending upon the size of your projects, how many people are working on them, the duration of the project and other variables…you aren’t going to know every detail about every aspect of your projects. But, you should always have a general level of comfort based upon the functional managers you are working with, project team member, and your gut feeling.
There’s a lot to be said about your gut feeling. This is the little voice inside your head (otherwise known as experience) that gives you the reality check on whether you can take someone’s word for where things stand. Or, do you need to trust what they are saying, but do a little more verification to make sure nothing is being left out. It’s always amazing how long a task can be “95% complete”, or “almost done”, or “there’s just one thing left to do” as it drags on for weeks or sometimes even months!
If you don’t have a warm, fuzzy feeling about where things stand right now, it’s your responsibility as a Project Manager to dig a bit deeper and start extracting the facts.
2. What’s Next?
Going under the assumption that everything is on track, the next question you need to have the answer to is “what’s next?”. You can use your project management software to answer this question.
There is going to be another group on the project that is up to bat. Do you know who they are? More importantly, do they know who they are? Project management software is great, but if nobody knows about the schedule, is talking about the plan, or chatting about the project in the hallways then it benefits nobody. Make sure that you know the critical path of the project and can quickly and accurately answer that question.
3. What’s in the Way of Moving the Project Forward?
By the time you get to this question, you know that your project is on track and you know where it needs to go next. You feel good about the progress that has been made and all indications are that it will continue to move forward without delay.
This is the question where you get into the fact that “you don’t know what you don’t know”. Don’t assume that everything will continue on just as expected. Ask a lot of people a lot of questions about what could possibly go wrong, slow the project down, or possibly derail it. Then, it’s your job to clear the path and make sure all lights are green for your team to move forward unobstructed.
There are a number of supporting activities and documents that provide the input into the answer for each of these questions. For example, status reports and project meetings help answer the question about where things stand now.
Gantt Charts, Resource Allocation and understanding the Critical Path of a project provide the answer to what’s next. Finally, risk analysis, risk registers, contingency plans and mitigation strategies all keep things moving forward with minimal obstruction. It’s a lot to juggle, but over time it becomes second nature as you bring project after project after project to completion.
So, the next time you feel yourself getting a bit overwhelmed by the demands being put upon you as a Project Manager, take a deep breath and a step back. Reflect on the three questions above. Think about how important the services are that you offer and the value you bring to your company. Picture what things would be like without you doing what you do (that one thought alone should make you feel better) and then get back to work with a renewed zeal to wrap up another project!
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