Project Management — Ten Defining Questions for a Successful Foundation

Nike came up with an award winning slogan for selling their sporting goods in 1988. But as much as Just do ithas worked wonders for that company, if you are given a project and told to just do it, you should think again.

Every year, thousands of world-wide projects end up in jeopardy because of a universal tendency to try to rush into the execution phase before fully defining and planning the what of that project.

Before just doing it, a project definition document (often referred to as the project charter), must be prepared. Once the project charter is completed and approved, the project plan must be prepared in detail to ensure successful project execution.

The ten “defining” questions that need to be asked are as follows:

1. Why are we doing this project?

Describe the context of the project and the justification for doing it. Are there any strategic, operational improvement or regulatory reasons why this project must be done? This is the kind of information that tells stakeholders the why of the project and engages people to step up and deliver.

2. What are the main objectives?

Describe in a SMART way (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Based) the major objectives to be achieved with this project.

3. Who are the key project stakeholders?

Determine the individuals, organizations, customers and clients that will be positively or negatively affected during the project or as a result of executing it.

4. What is the scope of this project?

Record the major items of work to be done on this project at a high level. Also, list the major items of work that should be excluded from this project. This ensures clarity around the scope and prevents incorrect assumptions about what is included in scope.

5. What are the major project deliverables?

List the major deliverables to be produced within the scope of this project. Deliverables are usually tangible items such as the end result or end product of your project. For example, if you were doing a project to create a new employee safety policy the final deliverable might be the policy document.

A deliverable leading up to the final deliverable might be research into best safety practice. Typically, there are about four or five deliverables including those leading up to the final deliverable.

6. What are the project’s critical success factors?

List the factors having potential or real impact on the success of this project. Often, if these factors are not in place, they could potentially stop the project altogether. Typically, there are only three or four of these factors. An example would be the availability of a key resource.

7. What are the assumptions and constraints associated with this project?

Identify the assumptions and constraints (external or internal to the project) that need to be taken into account when establishing the detailed plan. Assumptions are things considered to be true for planning purposes. Constraints are factors that will limit the project like resources or funding.

8. What are the major risks associated with undertaking this project  at this time?

Identify the potential risks with the implementation of the project. Risks could be things like new technology not being available when required — thereby delaying implementation.

9. How will project changes be managed?

Determine and document how changes will be managed. Address things such as the use of a change control template, a change control log, whether the original project charter must be revised, etc.

Be sure to specify who has authority to approve changes to scope. Having this process in place will discourage unnecessary changes to the project and ensure that necessary changes are handled effectively.

10. What are the potential benefits and the associated costs of this project?

Describe the benefits of this project, including things like revenue growth, customer retention, internal cost-reduction, and employee retention. Also, be sure to list the costs involved — including capital investment and any additional expenses.

If you follow this guide, you will have the foundation on which to build a successful business project.

Mike Provins, BA, PMP, has earned his Project Management Professional Certification from the Project Management Institute. He delivers highly participative programs in Project Management for Ontario Training Network. Mike offers a two-day workshop Principles for Effective Project Management