Successful project management teams ask a lot of questions. That’s a good thing. But getting the data you need in return requires that you ask the right questions, and at the right time. It isn’t difficult or complex to pull useful information out of stakeholders, but the Project Team needs to take a systematic and comprehensive approach to make the most of the questions they ask.
While PMP®s are experts in project management, stakeholders are experts in their needs, their concerns, the resources they can offer, and where they can negotiate on any of those points. To ensure the project team is equipped to meet stakeholders’ needs and address their concerns, it’s imperative they gather as much information in the beginning as they possibly can. Achievables that are even slightly off the mark could result in a project that falls far short of expectations in the long run.
In addition, an earnest effort to ask useful questions can do wonders for customer satisfaction levels. Everyone from end users to sponsors are generally much more willing to work through project glitches and to be flexible on finding workable solutions if they feel their voices are being heard, and that the project team sincerely wants to know what they’re thinking. Asking good questions is a win-win situation: PMP®s get the information they need to successfully execute the project and stakeholders get project results that make them happy.
The first priority must be to actively listen to the answers your questions bring. Project teams sometimes head into Q&A, fact-finding, or needs assessment sessions thinking they already know the answers to the questions they plan to ask. This is a bad approach to take, as it colors how well and how accurately the group will be able to process the information stakeholders offer to them. The solution? Once you ask a question, stop talking and start listening so you’re sure to hear the answer.
As the team is asking questions and analyzing the answers coming into the Project Team, they should also be looking for key things stakeholders are not saying. Is there a lack of discussion around work disruptions, for example? End users may assume there won’t be any. By carefully evaluating the responses they receive, PMP®s will be better able to address potential issues before they become problems.
Questions should be presented throughout the project’s lifecycle, though the focus will change as activities progress. Early on, PMP®s are encouraged to ask open-ended questions with a broad focus. This approach will enable the team to get a good picture of what stakeholders need and what they expect, and which issues are most likely to require extra attention. Those initial questions should be followed by a next-tier strategy, where the questions narrow in focus to target specific details, such as how the project’s scope will be set, where budget limitations exist, and which achievables take priority if something has to be eliminated.
Once the project is underway, user surveys and other tools can be leveraged to ask questions without tying up too much time on the part of the stakeholders or the team. Inquire about how the progress looks to end users and ask if they have concerns about any vendors who may be working onsite. Always provide customers with the opportunity to raise points not covered by other questions, in case the team missed something.
A mixture of online and in-person approaches are often most effective when asking questions mid-project. It gives the Project Team a wide view on issues while also allowing them to delve into specific topics that may need additional attention.