The 13 Most Important Things To Ask Your Project Manager Today

Do you know the actual status of your project, program or portfolio? Can you tell me exactly where it’s up to?

Green, amber and red. These are the colours that most project, program and portfolio people use to communicate status.

You need to ignore these colours.

As the sponsor, you’re responsible and yet, in real terms, you often have limited visibility into the actual state of the project or program. Project or program managers might prefer it this way but it’s perilous for you.

If you’re the sponsor – responsible and accountable for a project’s outcome – you need more than just pretty colours and estimated percentages.

You need real and tangible information.

The magic starts when you, the sponsor, ask certain key questions of your project manager (PM) to determine the actual state of a project, program or portfolio.

Here are the 13 key questions you need to ask your project or program manager and the answers you should be looking for.

1. To whom do you report?

Looking for: You. If it’s not you, then think about how much accountability you want to accept. If you don’t choose your PM and/or they don’t report to you, BE AFRAID.

2. What will have happened when the project is successful?

Looking for: Words that explain very clearly what success is – what will have happened, what people will be saying and seeing. You’ll then know whether they have an understanding of what they’re aiming for.

3. Who gets to declare the project a success?

Looking for: If it isn’t you it needs to be someone with enough clout and influence to call a project successful and who can carry the message with gravitas. This person matters, as does whatever they’re saying – they need to be listened to, managed and engaged.

4. When does the project finish?

Looking for: An honest finish date. Please don’t accept the cut over, go live or launch date. Those are only markers on the path to the end of the project. If they don’t know, make it clear for them.

5. How do you know where the project is actually up to?

Looking for: Absolutes and actual information/data that gives confidence. Interpretative percentages aren’t impressive – so don’t accept them. (If you need help with this call me).

6. How old is the information in the report?

Looking for: Current, correct information – ensure you get the latest. Reports often give updates with ‘older than a day’ info.

7. Would you bet your house on the accuracy of this report?

Looking for: An honest and revealing response. This question is a favourite of ours but you shouldn’t lead with it.

8. Does the project team think the same about current status?

Looking for: Zero disconnect. If the PM thinks that the project is going well but others disagree, there’s disconnect to be corrected. Disconnects can slow a project down at the least and derail it at worse. Whatever the answer, test this on others.

9. Does the project team describe success in similar ways?

Looking for: A common denominator of success. It’s the PM’s responsibility to ensure that everyone has the same picture and story.

10. Does the project team believe the story of when and what will happen?

Looking for: Confidence, commitment, engagement and honest conversations.

11. Is there much slippage that’s assumed recoverable?

Looking for: The answer will be telling, especially if the slippage is in the early stages. If there is slippage to be recovered – have a close, very close look (or ask us to), slippage is rarely evaporative and almost always cumulative.

12. Has the baseline moved?

Looking for: If the response is ‘yes’ has it been agreed and the impact accepted (even reluctantly) by everyone surrounding the project? This is about making sure the decisions that are yours actually sit with you and the sand isn’t moving under you without you knowing or having a chance to make decisions that might avoid the change.

13. Are planned project resources available and working?

Looking for: Approved resources are working on project and, if not, the impact is published and management has signed off on it. It is perilous to try to deliver a project with a lack of agreed project resources, while telling management that all is okay.

Ask these questions early on and you, as the project sponsor, have a much greater chance of determining actual status and, importantly, saving the project from failure and ensuring it succeeds.

By the way, RNC Global Projects asks these 13 key questions on every project and with a high degree of success.