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The Six Key Questions to Ask When Planning a Project
…and the resulting six hundred or so sub-questions….
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” — Benjamin Franklin
All successful projects start with a well-considered management plan. Perhaps every detail isn’t fully worked out in advance, but the important questions need to be asked—and answered—before any significant work takes place. Otherwise, you risk wasting time, money, resources, and the patience of your stakeholders. A clear definition of project success—along with the path to get there—needs to be developed during project planning.
There are six key questions that always need to be addressed during the project planning phase. They are:
Who wants and/or needs the project—and why do they want it? Who are the key stakeholders, customers, end-users, and such that are asking for the project? And why do they want it? What is their want or need? What are the high-level objectives and goals of the project? Who is the project for—and why?
What solves the high-level wants and needs? What will be created that solves and addresses the high-level “why” of the project? And how "good" does that solution have to be? What is the ideal deliverable that meets the needs of the key stakeholders?
What is the execution plan to create and deliver the solution? How will it be acquired or produced? What resources are required to execute that plan? How will progress be measured and corrections be made along the way during execution? How will information be managed and progress reported? What is the plan to successfully closeout the project? And what needs to be considered and addressed for after completion of the project?
What is the timeline to carry out the execution plan? How long will the effort take? What are the key milestones that need to be met and/or tracked?
How much will the plan cost to execute? How much does each element of the solution and plan cost? What funding constraints must be adhered to? When and how much funding is required during each aspect of the project?
What threatens the plan—and what can be done about the threats? What poses a danger to our ability to carry out the plan within the time and cost constraints? What technical, programmatic, external, and other risks exist? How likely are they to occur? How serious are they if they occur? What can be done to minimize their likelihood of occurring and/or the impact of them if they get realized?
Every project is unique, so the answers to these questions will vary. Depending on the size, scale, complexity, and type of project, the answers may be simple or complex. Further, they may spawn dozens or hundreds of sub-questions and issues to address. But regardless of the project specifics, every project requires answers to these six basic questions. If you can work through and provide detailed responses to these six primary elements, you will have the foundation of a project management plan that clearly defines success and a reasonable and appropriate means of achieving that success.