In the early phases of project planning, there are many things the Project Team doesn’t know. But as the process gets underway, the team needs to make it their mission to ensure they get the information they need to understand where risks exist, to determine the most efficient and effective scope and timeline, and to make the best decisions as they move forward. If the data being used by the Project Team is incomplete or inaccurate, the project could go over budget or even fail to achieve its goals.
Given the importance of knowledge when it comes to executing projects, it’s crucial that the project team develop good data harvesting techniques. A handful of questions will help PMs get more comprehensive and current the information from stakeholders, and also point them toward others who may be able to offer useful input and advice.
Who are you leaving out of the project planning process?
It’s may be impossible to bring everyone into the same room for project planning discussions—there could be hundreds or thousands of stakeholders across the various departments, and people might be in different parts of the world—but it’s still critical that the project team include all the right collaborators. Consider which groups may hold valuable information, whether it’s about operational issues, workforce limitations, financial resources, legal concerns, partnership opportunities, or regulatory requirements. It’s often prudent to include representatives from a wide variety of sub-teams. That could range from end users to front-line managers, from human resources experts to accounting and purchasing partners. You can typically winnow these groups down once you’re certain you’ve gathered the information you need.
What questions aren’t you asking as you develop the project’s scope and timeline?
Potential pitfalls lurk around every corner, even on relatively simple projects. Think about where things such as utility requirements, distance limitations, regulatory mandates, and labor pool challenges could present problems for the team. Because the Project Team likely isn’t aware of every issue that could impact the project, it’s important to ask stakeholders open-ended questions to learn as much as possible. What else can they tell you about equipment specifications? About their department’s hiring plans? Do they know about any pending legislation that could impact how this project is executed? Inquire if they recall concerns from previous projects that weren’t well documented or fully explored. Did vendors or other experts mention potential problems during an earlier initiative that never materialized? Have end users heard of peers who are experiencing difficulties in this operational area or with a similar project? What worries the executives about this project or their role championing it? Soliciting input is one of the most important functions in project management, so it’s vital your team is as thorough as possible, especially during the early stages.
Which outside partners have the expertise you need?
Few organizations have all the information in-house that is needed to successfully execute the project. Casting a wide net will be crucial, so connect with vendors, consultants, partner companies, other divisions, oversight agencies—every group that can provide expertise or insight. Does a local contractor regularly work on these projects? Is there an industry association with a focus group dedicated to this type of effort? Can a non-binding review or advisory session be arranged with regulators? Reach out to these resources and pick their brains about the difficulties they usually encounter and the strategies they employ to mitigate risks. They may also offer referrals to other specialists you hadn’t considered. Once this data gathering exercise is complete, the Project Team will be on much firmer footing to develop plans and execute critical activities.