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10 Questions A New Project Manager Must Ask Before Starting A Project
By Joanna Leigh Simon 16/01/2018
As project managers, if there’s one thing we all know for certain, it’s that nothing is certain. Managing changes and unexpected variables comes with the territory – but perhaps one of the biggest challenges you’ll face as a Project Manager is being thrown into a project that’s already underway. Perhaps you just started a new job and you’re being brought in on a project in progress, or another PM left suddenly and you are taking their place.
Below, I’ve outline 10 project management questions that every Project Manager must ask when you’re thrown into a new project. Hopefully these can guide you to smooth sailing! Of course, these questions can be tailored to suit any unique project or client, and can be asked in person at a meeting, virtually via email, or over the phone. No matter how you do it, document the answers so that you can refer back to them later or share them with the team/stakeholders as necessary.
1. What Are We Actually Delivering?
A project might have one overarching deliverable: a website, a program, an event, a brand design. But most projects are made up of several or more phases or items meant to be completed in a certain order. All of your documentation including scope/statement of work, contract, and project plan should include a straightforward list of each item your team is expected to deliver. For example, if you are building a website, the list might include:
- content strategy
- design round 1
- design round 2
- design round 3
- content input
Even though the project is a “website,” it is your responsibility as the Project Manager to stay on top of each of the deliverables and moving parts to ensure that they are completed in order, on time, and to specification. Ask your manager, team, or client to confirm that you have the full list of deliverables and nothing is missing. Also make sure to find out what has been completed, what’s in progress, and what is yet to come.
2. What Are We NOT Delivering?
Equally as important as what IS part of the project is knowing, clearly what is NOT. This is one of the easiest ways to avoid scope creep, confusion, and 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? Make sure that you ask your stakeholders if they will be providing these types of items, or if they want to add them to the scope.
There is also of course a middle ground, where perhaps you recommend another firm or a partner company to provide some additional services. Either way, it’s incredibly important to determine early on who will be responsible for all elements of the project so that 2 weeks before launch you’re not having a moment with your client explaining that you thought THEY were providing the copy and they assumed YOU were providing the copy. If the previous PM on the project already went over this with the client, asking again could be a good opportunity to check in and see if the client has changed their mind or if this might be an opportunity to sell more services.
3. Is There A Deadline?
Most projects have deadlines, and believe it or not that’s a good thing. Having a concrete amount of time within which you must complete a project helps your team stay focused, hopefully ensures that the client stays focused, and helps you figure out time and budget allocation. When you land on a new project, ask your stakeholders about their deadlines. Perhaps there is a firm deadline due to a product launch, event, or budget constraint. (I call this a “drop-dead deadline.”) Sometimes you’ll find that deadlines can be a bit more fluid, i.e. “we’d like this done sometime this summer.” Either way, as PM, you should determine when the true deadline is early on so that you can plan backwards from there. This is also a good time to check progress against your timeline – until you arrived on the scene, was your team on track to finish by the deadline? If so, great! If not, then here is your opportunity to assess what’s wrong and go about fixing it to get back on track.
4. What Is The Benchmark For Success?
This is one of the most important project management questions to ask at the start of any project. A goal may seem straightforward, ex: build and launch a new website. But don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper. Ask your clients and stakeholders what they are really trying to achieve with this work. Do they want to gain more brand awareness? Ensure a successful product or program launch? Acquire more users? Increase revenue? Get your client to be open with you about why they are embarking on this project, and keep that goal at the forefront of your discussions. Knowing what success will really look like can help your team stay focused and make important decisions throughout the lifespan of the project.
Coming into the project midway through its lifespan also means this is a good time for you to ask the stakeholders whether their vision/goals have changed at all since kickoff, and how you can most effectively help them reach all of their goals.
5. Who Is The Client…Really?
If you work in an agency, I’m sure this has happened to you. I know it’s happened to me more times than I can count! While you’re winning a project you’re dealing with one or maybe a couple of individuals, but then once the work is underway all of sudden other people start coming out of the woodwork to offer feedback and make decisions. I don’t blame clients for bringing a lot of cooks into the kitchen – this could be an issue of politics, or perhaps the initial collaborator wants to get a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth,) opinion on the work so that they don’t have to be solely responsible for success of the final product. After all, we have to remember that in many cases your clients are investing a lot of time and trust in your team and are entitled to some level of involvement in the work. Whatever the reason, I personally believe that you can manage this sometimes frustrating phenomenon of “multiplying clients” simply by asking at the outset: “Whose opinion matters? Are there additional stakeholders who will be brought in to offer feedback down the line?” This way, not only can you be prepared for the frenzy, should it occur, but you can also gently remind your primary client, if necessary, that she agreed you would only be fielding notes from 2-3 people, and now that 10 people are putting in their 2 cents, you might be facing scope creep.
6. Who Is The Point Of Contact?
This question might seem redundant if you are already working with a seemingly dedicated project team, but it is hugely important to determine who is the MAIN, in-case-of-emergency, ultimate-decision-making point of contact on a project. And a bonus project management question: find out what their preferred method of communication is. Email? Office phone? Cell phone? The last thing you want to be worrying about if something goes off the rails with a project is who you should reach out to and whether they’ll even read your email.
7. Who Is Doing The Work?
Most of the project management questions on this list are ones you will be asking your clients/stakeholders, but this question is an extremely important one and it’s all about your internal team. Perhaps you are joining a project where you already know the designers, devs, etc., or perhaps you’ve just started at a new company where you don’t know a soul! Either way, as soon as you are staffed on the project, make sure that you have the right people on the job. Does everyone have the skills necessary to complete the work on time and on budget? Does anyone on the team need additional training or support? Have you filled all the roles needed, and researched contractors/freelancers if you need additional hands on deck?
8. Who Is The Audience For The Work?
Often, in project management, we think of each project as having 2 sets of stakeholders – the client or the person asking for the work to be done, and the team, or the people doing the work. But there is usually a third and sometimes silent group of stakeholders – the audience/consumer/recipient/user who will be interacting with, purchasing, or viewing the work when it’s done. The audience for your work is extremely important. Some projects will allow for surveys or research to be done to learn more about the consumer at the other end of your project work, but if not, you can still ask this question of the client, your team and yourself: who are we building this for, and what is important to them? The answers to these project management questions will no doubt help you stay focused on what it is you are truly trying to accomplish.
9. Has This Been Done Before?
Even the most innovative, unique, remarkable work in our industry usually builds upon or takes some inspiration from something that was done before. There’s no shame in seeing what else has been done in the space or by similar organizations when you are assigned to your new project! Asking your stakeholders, (clients AND internal team), what other projects have been done before that your team can take inspiration/learn from is a great way to get everyone excited about the work to come, get some new ideas, and stay aware of your competition. I love to ask clients to show me examples of products/projects that inspire them so that my team knows what to aim for and can hopefully surpass expectations.
10. What Might Get In The Way?
Believe it or not, I think this might be my favorite question to ask when I start a new project. It might seem a little bit messy to delve into all the potential problems you might face as a team embarking on this work, but I think coming together to responsibly identify potential roadblocks to success is not only an exercise in humility – admitting that something is bound to go wrong at some point – but it can absolutely help you be prepared for when that moment comes. Hopefully you have already insured against common pitfalls – staffing, timeline, budget, tech specs, etc., but what else might get in the way of everything happening according to plan? Huddle with your team and ask your stakeholders what they foresee as potential barriers to success – or what barriers have already arisen – and then ensure everyone that you, as PM, are informed about these issues and ready to tackle them should they come up again.
Joanna Leigh Simon
Joanna Leigh Simon is a producer at The Heads of State, a design and branding studio in Philadelphia, PA. Working in small, busy agencies for the past 7 years, she has delivered hundreds of projects across various media including websites, videos and films, advertising, branding, and graphic design. A Jane of all trades and a master of some, Joanna's roles shift daily from pure project management and traffic monitoring to client services, strategy, copywriting, vendor acquisition, business development, and process implementation. Some clients include Johnson & Johnson, The Greater Philadelphia Tourism & Marketing Corporation (GPTMC), Interboro Spirits & Ales, New Balance, Conan on TBS, and Penguin Books.
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We have 515 members and 412 have earned certifications
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The PMO Project Manager as a member of the Launch Control Systems IPT Program Management Office (PMO), helps enable oversight of the full product (system) development life cycle and software development life cycle for the implementation of the primary Command and Control System capabilities for NASA’s Deep Space Exploration program. Additional responsibilities include:
Implementing established policies, system monitors and controls to ensure the successful management and reporting of all corporate initiatives in the program
Supervising and leading the program and project staff to oversee the impacts and interdependencies between programs and working to ensure initiatives meet the goals and objectives of the executive leadership team
Providing both verbal and written communications regarding project status, risks and issues. Assist in the development and updating of key project management enablers (e.g., project portfolio, communication plan, issue, risk and decision logs, change request log)
· Identify, analyzes, and monitors project risks; determines prioritization of Program risks; assists Program Manager and works to maximize the probability and impact of positive events and minimizes the probability and impact of adverse events
· Maintain a comprehensive Issue, Risk, and Decision documentation, as they relate to project timelines and co-dependencies. Maintain documentation of changes to scope, timelines, milestones, and deliverables, and identify non-technical dependency implications.
· Assist with reviewing all necessary work plans and related project management documentation are completed in sufficient detail to provide for adequate management and control, as well as consistent with overall master schedule and dependencies
Assist in the development and updating of key project management enablers (e.g., project portfolio, communication plan, issue, risk and decision logs, change request log)
· Develop communications documents detailing development / delivery progress for Senior Leadership, Boards, workforce and other stakeholders, including regular reporting
Requires a BS degree in computer or system engineering/science or a related discipline from an accredited college or university.
· PMP Certification Required
PgMP Certification a Plus
LEAN / Sig Sigma Certification a Plus
Demonstrated ability to lead in a highly-complex product environment with extensive matrix-managed resource component required
Demonstrate understanding of complex project management and leverage knowledge of company to identify risk and evaluate impacts on the business
· Experience in program management, or coordinating long-term, cross-functional projects.
· Demonstrated communication skills and reporting skills – experience across multiple tools and platforms with preference for experience in complex metrics data visualization
· Demonstrated thought leadership skills and creativity, as well as strong analytical skills.
· Strong work-ethic and interpersonal skills.
· Ability to communicate results and analytics to multiple audiences.
· Prior experience collaborating with Engineering, Quality Assurance, Business Office, and External Dependent Programs
Senior Schedule Analyst/Lead
Job Req: 2255
Professional Senior Schedule Analyst as Lead of our Program Scheduling Team for the Exploration Ground Systems Program at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
- Lead Schedule Analyst reports schedule performance to Program Management and above. Reviews, analyzes, identifies and clearly communicate issues with large Integrated Master Schedule (IMS) across Functional Teams and to Program Management.
- Provide subject matter expertise to the scheduling and technical teams, the integration and assessment of activities and helps defend the Program to outside auditors.
- Requires a technical knowledge along with extensive experience in critical path scheduling using Primavera software as well as MS Project and MS Office suite.
- Integrate project / program requirements into several tools to emphasize collaboration and communication of goals and milestones among several internal and external stakeholders.
- Develop program level schedule products, schedule metrics, provide data evaluation and verification, and perform schedule analysis and integration directly for Program Management.
- Perform schedule risk assessments, performance based schedule analysis, evaluation of schedule progress against the plan, and critical path analysis and provide insight and recommendations to help improve the plan.
- Perform “what if” schedule assessments as required by the Program and Functional Team leads in support of PCBs, ERBs, and Cross Program boards/forums and any other Program Level environment.
- Implement best scheduling practices, evaluating impacts to performance status, risk, near critical, or critical path calculations.
- Develop and maintain customized schedule tracking, trending and analysis metrics, reports, graphs and dashboards.
- Identify and evaluate changes in logic, lag, slack (float), and constraints that may impact schedule status.
- Assess cost impacts associated with any schedule changes.
- Lead and work with a technically diverse team.
- Offer innovative thinking and out-of-the-box solutions to concerns, issues, and problems at both the Program level and the project level for the customer.
- Must have scheduling experience (preferred Primavera).
- 10+ yrs of direct schedule experience.
- Integration of Large construction projects experience preferred.
- Excellent organization skills, presentation skills, oral and written communication skills.
- Proficiency in MS Office products.
- Engineering background, preferably in the aerospace industry.
- Project management experience, PMP Certification preferred. PMI-SP Certification is a plus.
- Systems engineering experience.
- Detailed understanding of the Program Lifecycle/Systems Engineering Lifecycle.
- Experience working in matrixed organizations.
Bachelor of Science (BS) Degree from an accredited college or university plus a minimum of 15 years of related experience. Advanced degrees preferred (Master of Science (MS) Degree and PhD). An additional two (2) years of related experience for the specific skill can be substituted for MS. An additional four (4) years experience can be substituted for a PhD.
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