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Project managers know one thing for sure: Nothing is certain. Unexpected variables and changes are part of the job. However, being assigned to a project that is already underway can be one of the most difficult challenges for Project Managers. You might just start a new job and are being asked to join a project that is in progress. Or maybe another PM has suddenly left and you are taking their place.
Below are 10 questions every Project Manager should ask when they’re assigned to a new project. This is a guideline and not a replacement for PM training. These questions can help you navigate the pitfalls of time crunch. These questions can be tailored to fit any project or client. They can be asked in person, over the phone, or electronically.
No matter how you do it: Make sure you record the answers so you can refer to them later on or share them with your team/stakeholders if necessary.
Ten Questions to Ask Before You Start a Project
1. What are We Really Delivering?
One project may have one deliverable: a website or a program, or an event, or a brand design. Most projects have multiple phases or items that must be completed in a specific order. Your documentation, including the scope/statement, contract, and project plan, should include a simple list of all items your team must deliver. If you are building a website, this list might include:
design round 1
design round 2
design round 3
Although the project is called a “website”, it is your responsibility as Project Manager to keep track of all deliverables and moving parts and ensure they are completed on time and to specification. Ask your client, manager, or team to confirm that you have the complete list of deliverables. You should also find out what has been done, what is in progress, and what lies ahead.
2. What are We Not Delivering?
Knowing clearly what is not part of the project is equally important. This is one of many ways to avoid scope creep, confusion, or extra work. For example, in the simple website from #1, your firm is providing content strategy, but does that mean you are also writing all of the copy and providing photographs, videos, or illustrations/visuals to go along with? Ask your stakeholders if these items will be provided or if you want to add them to your scope.
There is always a middle ground. You might recommend another company or partner company to provide additional services. It doesn’t matter what, it’s vital to establish early who will be responsible for each element of the project. This will ensure that your client doesn’t spend 2 weeks explaining to you that they thought THEY were providing copy and that YOU were providing it. If the client already discussed this with the PM, it might be worth asking again to see if they have changed their minds or if there is an opportunity to sell additional services.
3. Is there a deadline?
Project deadlines are a common feature. A deadline helps your team stay focused and the client stays focused. It also helps you plan time and budget allocation. Ask your stakeholders to discuss their deadlines when you start a new project. Maybe there is a deadline due to a product launch or event.