6 Questions Every Project Manager Needs To Ask

Posted by Peter Taylor, The Lazy Project Manager on June 4, 2015

6 Questions Project Managers Should Ask to Work More Efficiently

Working hard doesn’t always mean working efficiently because efficiency is all about making the best possible use of resources and time. Efficient people maximise the output from any given input, and focus on the key deliverables rather than trying to do everything at the same time.  By improving such efficiency project delivery, for example, can be significantly increased in success.

During my time leading a number of Project Management Offices (PMOs) across different organisations one thing was common across all of the project managers and that was they generally could be placed in to two behavioural groups.

The first group was reasonably successful in leading projects to the point of delivery but so too were the second group, they also led reasonably successful projects. The difference was in the time that each group invested in doing this particular work. One group averaged a ‘normal’ working week (of course projects aren’t flat in their demand of project managers’ time investment but I am talking averages here) and the second group averaged a lot more hours.

The output was similar but the input was very different.

The behavioural differences in those two groups of project managers was that the latter had not matured their working style and failed too often to delegate in the appropriate way, involved themselves in too much communication and placed themselves in the path of the majority of the decisions that needed to be taken.

If you truly want to be more effective and efficient in what you do, then you need to start by asking yourself some fundamental questions when the next task comes along.

1: Do I want to do this piece of work, job or task etc? Even if I do want to do it, do I need to do it?

Don’t do something just because everyone else does it, running with the pack is never going to allow you to take control of your own time and will only lead to over-commitments.

If you really want to change things for the better then begin by asking yourself two questions: challenge yourself the very next time you consider taking on some new work ‘Do I need to get involved and do I want to get involved’. By addressing objectively the decision making process, rather than being swept up in enthusiasm, acceptance of delegation, or assumption that you do have to do something then you will be better prepared to a) do what is important and b) do a good job on what you accept is important.

2: Is the result or outcome worth my effort?

Only do the things with the most impact. It is all about applying the good old 80/20 rule. What are the most critical things that you need to get involved in? What is the 20% that will deliver the 80% of value (and not the other way around that most people do – often the easier actions that deliver a false sense of progress).

Your time is limited so invest it only in things that give you the most return on your personal investment. As with all of these guiding rules there will be exceptions but at least by starting with the all-important questions as and when you do ‘break the rules’ you will have done so with the right level of consideration and planning.

3: Do I have to do this myself?

Ask yourself if you really are the best possible person to do whatever it is that needs to be done or is there someone else in your network who is better qualified than you to do this thing?

The principle here is that allocating work to the best-suited person benefits everyone in the long run. Of course this cannot be done just to avoid work. You have to pick up some actions yourself.

It is all about balance and priority. Overall you want to deal with the important stuff plus a reasonable amount of other stuff.

If you keep saying ‘yes’ then your backlog will never go down and you will spend far too much time working on the unimportant.

4: If you have to do it, then what is the shortest path to the point of success?

Don’t waste your time on the unnecessary. If it works in black and white don’t waste effort in creating a technicolour dream version of the same thing. What is the point after all if you are ‘just getting the job done’ (to the right quality level of course)?

Can you simplify it? Can you shorten it? Is it really needed when it is supposed to be needed? Will it impact on others if it waits? Sometimes not rushing into something can turn out to be a good thing as it turns out it didn’t matter anyway, or at least the need has gone away.

5: What exactly is that point of success and at what stage will you just be wasting your time?

Having said take the shortest path to success there is a counter-argument that says can you make this of greater value in the long run. Can this be reused again and again? Can it have more value than just a ‘one-off’ piece of work? If it can, then scale it for a better return on investment.

To achieve project management success in the most efficient way you always need to think ‘smarter and not harder’.


6: What can I use to make my task simpler

There are some amazing tools out there and it is a matter of identifying what works best for the task in hand, and what makes your life easier. The challenge with some tools and systems is that they can make life easier for some but not always for others. Some tools are just not fit for purpose in your industry or for the processes that you apply in your business while other tools will be built with a specific industry in mind supporting the processes that you use in your everyday work life.

The secret to project tool success in your daily project management work is that tools make your life easier, not impose more work on you. With the right tools you should be able to – maybe not from day 1 but after some time of adaptation – save time and not spend more of it.

What tools do you have that you could use and what one(s) will make you work more efficiently?