When you go to the doctor for your annual physical, one of the things the doctor will check is your reflexes. You know, the highly sophisticated ol’ mallet-to-the-kneecap test. (Do they even do that test still? Okay, bad analogy. Let’s try again.)
Reflexes are important, as you well know if your hand has ever gotten too close to a hot stove. But to take this analogy and apply it to your work you might ask yourself:
How are fast are your reflexes when it comes to project planning?
Sharp, you should say. Your project management reflexes should be razor sharp. The moment that anybody says “We need to get this done,” you automatically kick into gear and ask yourself: 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?
If so, you’re in good health. If not, here are eight questions you can ask of yourself and your team to help get your project started off right:
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 the relative size of the project to understand what needs to be accomplished.
Remember, when you are talking about the start of the project, 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 all the key players 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 stage, you must make educated estimates and know they may change as information becomes available.
3. What Are the Constraints?
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 what needs to be done in order to deliver within this date.
4. How Will You Know if We’re Successful?
Someone wise once said, “Start out with the end in mind.” Ask your team, 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 become terribly disappointed at the end. Define from the start the measures of project success that you work towards.
5. What Assumptions Have Been Made?
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. Watch Devin Deen’s video about how to radically manage assumptions on your project (pardon the pun).
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 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?”–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 Our Success?
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.
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 in mind will help your projects be that much more successful.
Above all, use the tools and resources that will help set your project up for success. Create your project plan simply and easily with ProjectManager.com.