It doesn’t matter what project you’re undertaking or in what industry. You must find what it is the client wants before you know what it is you’re going to do to help them. In order to do this you have to ask questions, listen to the answers and follow-up with more questions. Starting a project of any type based on preconceived notions or cook book solutions is, to continue the metaphor, is a recipe for disaster. Presented is a list of questions you need the answers to up front to ensure project and customer satisfaction.
1. The first and perhaps most obvious question is what’s the problem or what is perceived to be the problem that will be solved as a result of the intended project? Very often the root cause of the problem is hidden. Often times when the complaint is a low salary the real problem lies elsewhere and won’t be permanently cured by giving the disgruntled employee a raise. This applies to every situation; before you can implement a lasting solution you have to understand the fundamental cause.
2. What is currently being done to cope with the situation and what’s been tried in the past? Your customer won’t be happy paying you to reinvent the wheel. However, you do need to understand how what is and what has been down, how, with what, and what results were or weren’t achieved. Perhaps what is or has been done wasn’t done to the extent necessary but may be part of the final solution.
3. What resources are at your disposal? Will you be assigned these resources or will you be responsible for identifying and acquiring them? If they will be assigned, do they have the necessary qualifications and what are the lines of responsibility, accountability and authority? If resource acquisition is your responsibility can you identify and acquire what you need in a timely manner?
4. Who are the end users and how do they view the pending project? Have they been consulted regarding the problem or it’s solution.
5. What are the constraints? Obviously you will no doubt be constrained by both time and money but what else? If the person that hired you also hired their nephew and you determine that the nephew is the root cause then what? Certain departments, processes and procedures may be sacrosanct and considered untouchable and the solution will have to respect that. What is to be done to ensure that effecting the solution in one area of the business won’t create another problem?
6. What has been budgeted for the program and is it caste in stone or jello? How are expenses authorized and who has the authority to approve expenses or deviate from the budget.
7. Are their any inherent risks? Is your customer risk prone or risk adverse? Can the risks be readily identified when and if they’re manifested and can they be mitigated or eliminated?
8. How will you recognize success? Once the root cause has been identified and potential solutions explored the solution may be monetarily, operationally or philosophically unpalatable to the customer. Does this mean you’ve failed at solving the problem and therefore shouldn’t get paid? Once you decide on the correct course how will progress be monitored?
This isn’t a complete list. As the Project Manager it’s up to you to decide what the relevant questions and follow-up questions should be. After all your job is to ensure project success and customer satisfaction.
By Taylor Laird