​5 questions a project manager should be able to answer

​5 questions a project manager should be able to answer

Colin Ellis lists his most important questions

I work with a number of organisations delivering ‘conscious project leader’ programs and in my preparation, I always ask whether the project manager can instantly answer five key questions about their project, regardless of the method being used.

In reality, project managers should be able to answer more than five questions relating to the budget, benefit tracking etc. Using the budget as an example though, some questions are harder to answer until the end of a particular period, usually month end.

A project manager should, however, be able to answer the following immediately.

1. What have been the activities and achievements for the week?

A project manager should always know which activities are on the agenda for the next four to six weeks with certainty. After that it can change depending on how quickly (or slowly) things are happening.

They should have a detailed schedule for at least the next three months, but the next four to six weeks is critical to keep things moving. They should know who’s working on what and when it will be completed. They should also be able to tell you what will have been delivered by the end of the week.

2. What’s the end date for the project?

'Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end'
- John Lennon

A project manager should be able to tell you the current end date of the project. It’s likely to change, that’s the nature of projects, however it’s a project manager’s job to manage that and the schedule should be updated weekly to reflect what’s changed. Not knowing the end date may mean that the project may never end and there are far too many of those projects out there.

3. What are the key risks?

Risks are those things that if not managed, keep project managers and sponsors up at night. In every project there’s one thing that, left unchecked, could ruin everything. A project manager should not only be able to tell you what it is, but what they’re doing to make sure it doesn't become an issue.

4. What are the key issues?

Sometimes, despite the best efforts of a project manager, there are things that happen that couldn’t be predicted. No project is without issues. A project manager should be able to tell you what they’re currently working through, what it will take to resolve it and what the impact is, if any, on the existing schedule.

5. How is team morale?

Perhaps the most important measure of any project is how happy the team and stakeholders are. How do they think it’s going? What concerns do they have? Is their opinion sought after? Do they have confidence in the project manager’s ability?

The project manager is unlikely to be able to answer this last one, but they should be able to answer the others. If the project manager’s assessment is different to the reality, then the project sponsor has a decision to make.

ProjectNPS is a tool that measures the satisfaction of the stakeholders and provides immediate feedback for project sponsors and managers to act on.

Being able to answer these five questions demonstrates how close the project manager is to the detail of the project, the team and how competent they are at delivering projects. If they can't answer them, they have work to do.

Colin Ellis runs his own project management and leadership practice and works with organisations to improve their ability to get things done. His first book The Conscious Project Leader is available for pre-order here and you can connect with him on LinkedIn here or follow him on Twitter.

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