Asking questions is an essential component of successful project management and leadership. Voltaire said we should judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers. Albert Einstein was obsessed with questions, or more precisely, with getting to the right question. Another smart mind, Peter Drucker, stated that the most serious mistakes aren’t a result of wrong answers but of asking the wrong questions.
Drucker’s observation is interesting. How often, for instance, have you seen businesses waste time and money in the pursuit of outcomes based on asking the wrong question? When so many projects end in failure, it’s fair to assume that one of the reasons is that people don’t ask the right questions up front. As busy project managers it’s easy to be reactive—coming up with short-term answers to immediate problems. But if you focus on asking questions that speak to sustainable visions and goals, you provide the leadership that projects need.
Here are the top three questions you should be asking all the time as a project manager.
1. What does my gut feeling tell me about the project and what I need to do?
Project management is often a very logical and tangible pursuit. We PMs assess progress based on provided information; and we address risks and issues based on what we observe. But beyond these tangibles, there’s another layer of information that’s unsaid and unexpressed. These are the small cues we pick up on, consciously or unconsciously, which can have a tremendous effect on a project.
Savvy project management professionals have a strong intuition, and they listen to it—and trust it—to guide them through everything they do. You can begin to tap into your own internal guidance system by continually asking yourself how you feel about the project and what you need to do to act upon it. For instance, how often have you had a feeling that something wasn’t quite right but ignored your intuition? There’s a reason the expression “trust your gut” is so widely used.
2. How can I better empower and motivate my team?
It’s still too common for project managers to only operate at a surface level when it comes to building relationships with team members. We assign tasks to people without taking the time to understand each person’s strengths and what it would take to make them perform better. Excellent project management is about accessing people’s genius and enabling the team to carry out its best work.
To do this effectively, you have to consistently ask how you can better engage and motivate each person and fulfill his or her individual needs. These needs could relate to certainty, variety, autonomy, mastery, growth and contribution. In other words: What makes each person tick? The only way you can find out how to better motivate someone is to enquire, observe and listen.
3. What would we do differently if we were the best team in our industry?
Many project teams fall into a groove of working without questioning why they do what they do, or asking questions about how they can improve. This improvement relates to anything from the processes and technology they use, to how they interface with their clients, respond to queries, and deliver outputs and benefits.
The key to good project management is to continuously improve and innovate so that you can deliver more benefit to your clients. You can begin to do this by imagining what you would do differently if you were the best team in town and if you had all the resources and options available to you. What would you do then?
Of course, go ahead and ask this question of yourself, but make sure you address it to the entire team. Asking “what if” questions is an excellent way to engage and challenge your team to think creatively. Then—wait, and really listen to the answers.
What are your powerful go-to questions?