6 Questions You Should Ask Your PM

August 24, 2018

Ben Myatt

You would never leave your child with a babysitter you don’t know. You would not feel comfortable if your taxi driver just got their license an hour ago. So why should you, as a client, entrust your brand’s project to a manager without making sure that they have the skills and experience needed to run your project?

With so many things on the line, such as your money, reputation, and ability to execute your brand’s vision, it is important to view the person managing your project as a business partner that you need to get to know. Here are 6 questions you should ask your project manager to ensure that they have what it takes to lead your next project:

1) What other projects have you managed before?

A project manager’s track record of successfully-finished projects will help you assess their capability of managing yours. While the thought of hiring a lesser-experienced manager in order to save money may have crossed your mind, working with an agency or team with an established client base not only gives you the confidence that your project will be executed, but it will also put you at ease knowing that it will be done with quality.

LLT Group has been trusted by big-brand clients from various industries with their projects, as seen in our portfolio. With that said, our dedicated teams take pride in providing the same level of support to all of our clients regardless of company size or project scope. Whether you, as a client, know precisely what you require for your project, or need help figuring out what is right for you given your resources, our experienced project management team will help you every step of the way.

2) What is your communication style?

Your project manager is your representative throughout the duration of your project. He or she will be your voice to the rest of the team, as well as your eyes and ears that will deliver relevant updates to you. In an ideal world, a client would be able to reach out to a project manager and get updates on their projects whenever desired. However, the truth is every project manager or agency has different styles of communicating, with some providing updates per milestone, and others giving progress reports based on a schedule (e.g. bi-weekly, monthly, etc.). Setting expectations with your project manager about your preferred frequency and level of detail when it comes to updates, should be done sooner than later. When establishing a communication method, ensure that you as the client have the opportunity to share your thoughts and feedback on the progress of the project. This allows for a clear, two-way communication between you and the rest of the team.

With digital projects, communication with your project manager is more transparent than it has ever been in the past. Various tools and software online allow you to effectively communicate with your team and see every relevant progress (or issue) that your project encounters. One of the biggest advantages of digital projects is the ability for both parties to work remotely, allowing clients from all over the world to work with the best project managers regardless of location. With these geographical constraints, however, an effective communication tool must be in place. It is essential that you and the project manager come into an agreement on communication style as early in the project as possible.

3) What suggestions do you have to improve my project?

A good project manager will take a client’s requirements, budget, and deadline, and deliver the project to completion given these expectations in mind. An excellent project manager, on the other hand, will do the same but also analyze the project and resources available in order to offer suggestions for improvement, and/or explain different outcomes given various price points. This will help ensure that the client makes the best possible choice, and ultimately get the most value out of their project.

This, of course, relies on the client’s willingness and ability to explain what he or she considers important given the resources. Once all the project requirements are laid out, it is helpful for the client to inform the project manager which ones are a must-have, versus the ones that are nice-to-have. The must-have deliverables are those features that the client finds absolutely necessary for the project to achieve within the budget and deadline. The nice-to-have objectives are those that the client would like to have given the availability of resources, but not if the budget or deadline would be negatively affected.

To give you a better understanding, take this scenario:

Sandra is an entrepreneur who sells custom-made dresses online. She wants to have her own website made where her customers can go and purchase her products directly, thus allowing her to keep all revenues, as opposed to using a third-party site which takes out commission.

She approaches her project team and says that in addition to having photos of the products displayed on the website, she would also like for a 360-degree view of the dresses to appear when a customer hovers their cursor over the product image.

The project management team says that this is doable, but also explains to Sandra that the 360-degree feature would add one week to the timeline and require a 20% increase to her budget. Sandra, after pondering on the scenarios, decides that it is more important for her to launch her website earlier, and thus chooses the lower price point without the extra feature.

Sandra decided that the 360-degree view feature was a “nice-to-have,” and not a “must-have.”

With this said, considering a feature nice-to-have does not necessarily mean that it will never be included in your project. With agreement between the client and the project team, these features can become part of a separate and smaller project in the future. It all comes down to the client’s priorities and what he or she finds important given the resources provided. By asking your project manager if he or she has any suggestions or ideas to make your project run more efficiently and effectively given your resources, you are starting a dialogue that can lead to more value for your brand.

4) What is your contingency plan?

A client always asks how the project manager will run the project, and rightfully so. But something that isn’t always asked—but should be—is what the project manager will do in case something goes wrong.

If projects always went according to plan, then there would not be a need for a project manager. A client needs to hire a project team precisely because things don’t always go as planned, and he or she needs experienced professionals to not only deal with issues, but also anticipate them.

Ask your project manager for his or her team’s contingency plan, or what they have planned to do in case issues arise. While it varies per project, this normally comes into play during implementation or roll-out, especially for web-related projects. An example would be confirming with your project team that a backup of your website’s original coding is available, before the newly-developed one is implemented, in case an error occurs and reverting to the original is required.

A trustworthy project manager will not tell you that there is absolutely no chance of anything going wrong. Unforeseen events like a power outage, a malware, and human error, while unlikely, can occur. It is the project manager’s job to be ready and be able to take action in case Murphy’s Law decides to enact.

5) What type of post-production support do you offer?

Various project managers and agencies will have different procedures, if any, when it comes to post-production support. This refers to the type of assistance the team is able and willing to provide after the project has been successfully completed. As a client, you will want to know who to contact or what process to go through in case you have questions about your product or service after the project is up, or if any issues suddenly arise after delivery.

There is no gold standard for this – some project managers will not offer any support once you sign-off and agree that the project expectations have been successfully met, while some may refer you to a support team should you have questions within a certain amount of time after the project completion. The important thing is to establish this understanding with your project team early on, so that you know what to expect once the project has been considered finished.

6) What does that mean?

Society has conditioned us to not ask “stupid questions,” which makes us hold back or hesitate to raise our hand whenever we don’t understand something. However, this attitude needs to be disregarded when working on a project.

As explained before, a project is more than a short-term gig to keep everyone busy. It is ultimately a way for the client to add value to his or her brand, with possible financial, reputational, or legal implications should it be held improperly. As the one funding the project, the client has every right to ask questions to ensure that he or she is on the same page as everyone else on the team. If the project manager uses a term that you are not familiar with, do not hesitate to ask for its meaning. If the team proposes a plan that you do not completely agree with, speak up. Not only will the project team appreciate you collaborating with them and minimizing unpleasant surprises down the road, but it will also hold the project manager accountable for his or her actions. The best project managers will not avoid questions, but instead invite them in order to ensure transparency.

In conclusion, a project manager is not just a person you blindly hand-off your project to; he or she is a business partner that you need to have confidence in when it comes to running your project. As a liaison between you and the rest of the team, the project manager needs to understand your needs and your priorities, as well as be able to take action should any issues or unforeseen events occur. Asking your project manager these questions will help you, the client, ensure that your project is in good hands.

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