Hey there, project manager. Want your project to fail? Okay, don’t ask any questions. Sit back and just let things happen. Don’t worry about the details that can make or break a project—just let it go!
Oh wait, that’s not what you want to do, is it? You want to be an influential project manager and show that you care about your project, its people, and process. But how do you show that you really care when you’ve got a new project and a new client? It comes down to knowing what makes a project well-run, and having the guts to ask the right questions to make sure you have those details locked in place.
Before you start any project, take some time to sit down with your client to ask some tough questions about process, organizational politics, and risks. Asking direct questions will go a long way in ensuring that you’re applying the right processes to the project and setting the right expectations about how your teams will work together. So, without further adieu, here are ten questions to help you get your project started on the right foot.
1. What is the goal of the project?
You want to ask this question so you can not only help keep your team focused on a single goal, but help devise a project strategy that will ensure that you meet it.
2. What is the project deadline? What are the factors or events that are calling for that date?
Every project has a deadline. Sometimes they’re arbitrary, other times they’re related to a big event, meeting, campaign, or something that will require you to be 100% done. Use an event project management software like TeamGantt, to make sure you get everything completed. Don’t just take the deadline and create a plan that could or could not make it. Create a plan that is based on the urgency of a final date and keep that in sight.
3. How will you and your client determine if the project is successful?
Why not set your team up for success? If you have a goal in mind and some metrics around those goals, you and your clients can determine what will make the project a success. One simple question can help set your team up for success in the form of client referrals, additional projects, and more.
4. Who owns the project? Who else is on your project team?
Every project has an owner. It might be the person you’re talking to. It might be that person’s boss. No matter what, you need to know who’s going to give you final approval—and who’s going to sign those checks. No matter what you do, you want to be sure that the owner of the project is looped in and informed at the right steps. Ask this question and sort those details out before you start work. no matter what, you need to know who’s going to give you final approval—and who’s going to sign those checks. On a tight budget? Use TeamGantt’s powerful free project management software, to indicate who’s responsible for what tasks.
5. Has your team discussed who will be the main point of contact and how you will handle the feedback process?
If you’re accepting client feedback and iterating on any of your deliverables, you want to be sure that you’ve made your clients think about that process. There is nothing worse than receiving 5 sets of conflicting feedback and having to sort through it all—it’ll confuse you, annoy you, and set your timeline on fire. Talk about the feedback process and set expectations early on about how you’d like to receive feedback, and who should be involved.
6. Are there any dates when you will be closed or not available?
Imagine this: you’re ready to present the biggest deliverable of the project and your client declines the meeting because their company will be closed for a staff meeting. Your plan is thrown off and you’re not sure how you’ll make that final deadline. You can easily avoid that situation—and many others—by simply asking for a peek at your client’s calendar. (You also might want to ask this question again mid-way through the project, because schedules change often!)
7. Has your team been through a project like this in the past?
History can teach us a lot when it comes to running projects. If your clients have run similar projects, they might be able to share some insight on how to make things run smoothly. The more you can learn about what does and does not work when it comes to running projects within your client organization, the better prepared you’ll be to create a process that will work for them…and make you look like a total pro.
8. Is there anything that would prevent the project from being successful?
Risks or issues are inherent on any project, and as a PM it’s your job to predict project risks, then seek and destroy them if possible. . Why not ask your clients what risks they might see before you even get started. There’s no shame in starting a project with the upper hand! Plus, keeping your clients happy will make you happy while you keep things on track.
9. Are there any points in the process that some stakeholders might not understand that we can explain?
It’s not uncommon to educate your clients about your work. This may come in the form of presenting your plan and explaining your process and each deliverable. It might mean you have to explain the intent of a deliverable before you present it. Either way, knowing just how much effort you should put in to explaining things will help you to form a trusting relationship with your clients and set you up as the expert.
10. Is there a preferred mode of communication?
You’re going to be in touch with your clients multiple times a week, whether that be by phone, email, instant messenger, carrier pigeon, what have you. The thing is, you want to be sure you’re getting in touch with your clients via the mode of communication that will get their attention. Ask what works best for them and adapt your style to get what you need from your clients (or just tell them how you want to communicate and see if they’re ok with that). Project management software that allows you to easily share project progress with clients also helps.
And there you have it: 10 questions that will help you to get the project information that you need. Before you jump onto that first call, there’s one word of advice I’d like to share about asking questions like these: Don’t read them off like a script. Use these as a guide to a conversation. A natural exchange about important project details will instill comfort and trust in your client-PM relationship, because your client will view you as the PM expert—the project driver who truly has both hands on the project steering wheel. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can set your projects up for success, check out our Guide to Project Management.
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