7 things a project manager needs to know

  1. The right questions to ask! The project manager will probably not be an expert in everything and therefore will need to rely on the knowledge, experience and goodwill of others around them. Getting that is dependent on asking the right questions to the right people in the right way. This will result in not only getting the information needed and also a way of making others feeling involved and valued. The remaining 6 things a project manager should know address these vital questions.
  2. Why? This is the fundamental question that needs to be answered in every project. ‘Why is this project being undertaken?’ ‘Is it to solve a problem or change the way we do things?’ ‘Is it to deliver a change into the market place that will increase the organisations fortunes?’ The answer to this question should form a substantial part of the project business case and should be validated at regular points through the project lifecycle. Things may change and there may come a point where the answer is no longer valid and the project ought to be cancelled or changed.
  3. What? This is the next important question that concerns the scope of the project. ‘What work needs to be done and what products will be produced?’ It ensures that there is a clear boundary to what’s ‘in’ and what’s ‘out of the project. For example, the project may include building a new office block but it is not marketing it. The ‘what’ question also deals with the requirements of the project’s products or deliverables. An example of this is understanding what a new IT system must be able to do in terms of functionality (as opposed to how it will do it). Good requirements form the basis on which stakeholders will accept the final deliverables.
  4. How? This is next most important question and covers two main areas of the project. The first is about how the project’s products are going to be delivered. Are they going to be proprietary and off-the-shelf, bespoke and contracted out to a specialist supplier or produced in-house? The answer to this question will have a direct bearing on the approach to quality management and will affect how much risk is taken. The second area is about how the project management processes are going to be applied. This will include questions like, ‘how are we going to manage information, how are we going to ensure health and safety, how are we going to apply risk management, how are we going to manage change requests and how are we going to manage the stakeholders?’
  5. When? The project manager must have a clear understanding of the project’s timescale and when things have to be delivered. One of the first things to do is to set out the project’s milestones which may include and important deliveries, gate reviews, quality checks and approvals and payments. Detailed plans can then be developed around these milestones showing where the critical path is and where effort should be targeted to ensure the project is successful.
  6. Who? Projects need motivated people with the rights skills, in the right numbers at the right time in order to be successful. This question considers both the resources required to deliver the products and the management structure to control it. The project manager must understand who the sponsor or business owner is, who the users will be and who the suppliers are and have a clear understanding of the lines of communication and control between them. In addition, the project manager must understand how many delivery resources are required through the life of the project ensuring that they are there in sufficient numbers and of the right competence to get the work done in time.
  7. How much? This is the question that can be only fully answered once the other questions are answered. The budget is only as good as the estimates that it is based on and the project manager needs to understand how the budget is built up and how it was arrived at including any contingency or uncertainty allowed for, so that it they can proceed with confidence and manage the project against that budget. The project manager must ensure that the budget is broken down sufficiently and time phased, so that they can monitor the various workpackages and stages against it and take action where necessary.

By Mike Warren, Senior Consultant, Provek Ltd

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