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What Questions Should a Project Manager Ask When Assigned to a Project?

Updated: Jan 16

After the project manager (PM) is hired, they will eventually need to meet with a business partner or PMO rep to understand the exact project they will be assigned to. After this meeting, the PM is formally assigned and allocated to this effort.

Before this can happen, there are some key questions the PM needs to ask to make sure they have answers to. The answers will determine what risks or obstacles the PM will deal with as the project starts. The answers will also identify the initial tasks the PM needs to take care of to get the project properly initiated.

What is the timeline to finish the project?

As we know, the project schedule is dependent on properly sizing the work via a solid Work Breakdown Structure or solid estimates from the execution team when planning sprint stories. However, you may be given a project where senior leadership wants a global implementation to happen in 6 months from start to project completion. You want to know the timelines established so you can begin noting risks and making a plan to communicate to senior leadership when these risks become issues. It's risky to throw a timeline on a project without a single requirement being discussed but, unfortunately, this does happen.

Have Resources Been Identified for the Project? If so, where are they located?

Here, the PM needs to understand the people involved in the project because their resource managers need to assign them to the project. Their location will also determine how the PM will need to structure communications and manage distributed teams. If one resource is located in Bangalore, India, and the other in Phoenix, Arizona USA then there needs to be a sweet spot where it won’t be too late for one resource and not too early for the other.

Is the Statement of Work (SOW) approved for this project?

Here, the PM needs to find out where the SOW is in the approval process. If it’s already been countersigned then this is great. If not, the SOW approval process has a timeline of its own. Tasks may include: drafting the SOW, reviewing the SOW with the vendor, updating the SOW, reviewing the SOW with the vendor, getting the SOW countersigned (which may take a week), and then submitting the SOW to Finance to generate a Purchase Order (which may take 2-3 weeks depending on the turnaround time at the organization.) If the SOW is not yet approved and execution is to start shortly after the PM is assigned to the project, this may be a risk.

What has been completed so far for this project?

The answer to the question gives the PM a starting point as to where to step in and begin managing the project. The PM needs to find out what has been accomplished so that time is not wasted and rework is avoided.

Is the budget finalized for the project?

Like the SOW, if the budget has not been finalized for this project, the PM needs to factor in this timeline as part of the initiation phase. This will become one of the priorities as the budget needs to be set up to realize the actual monthly costs of the project.

When I first started in Project Management, I made the mistake of not asking questions about the project because I was so eager to prove my worth as a project manager. Don’t let this happen to you. When you’re first assigned to a project, be sure to ask lots of questions to understand the current status. This will help you identify the initial set of tasks that you and your team will need to focus on.

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