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5 Key Questions To Ask Before You Plan a Project

5 Key Questions To Ask Before You Plan a Project

Although there are many inter-related components of Project Planning, there are five that are absolutely essential for undertaking a project of any scale, whether very small or very large.

Without a clear understanding of these five essential questions for project planning, project success (whatever that is for you) will hinge on mere luck rather than on skill.

 1. What is the problem to be solved?

This seems like a simple question and the answer may be easily identified.  More likely, however, there will be different perspectives within the project team and from other stakeholders involved.

These perspectives need to be heard, understood, and reconciled into a clear Problem Statement.  Since projects are undertaken to solve problems (whether to overcome issues or to pursue opportunities), it is essential that the objectives are clearly understood and agreed-upon as a first step in the Project Planning process.

 2. What is the timing?

The Schedule will vary depending on the environment in which the project is being undertaken.  In a competitive environment, timing will likely be critical. In other environments, timing may be less important.

Typically, however, there are timelines and deadlines involved.  A clear understanding of deadlines is required to plan projects that respond to organizational goals.  An understanding of the rationale for the deadlines will help the project team to remain motivated and focused on meeting them.

 3. How will we know if project success has been achieved?

We must establish Quality Standards for both how the project will be undertaken and for the end result. Project work can only be monitored by comparing intermediate results against Quality Standards. We can only effect corrections during execution if we understand the Quality Standards we are trying to achieve.

The establishment of objective Quality Standards is necessary for guiding work and for achieving the required project results. Like for the Problem Statement, different stakeholders will hold differing perspectives which must be heard, understood, and reconciled into a set of agreed-upon Quality Standards.

 4. What is the project budget?

A limited budget can restrict our ability to fully respond to the Problem Statement, to meet the Schedule, or to achieve the required Quality Standards.  The Budget will often require us to revisit these components in order to develop a workable solution.

A restricted Budget will encourage creativity, but at times, it may also lead to a conclusion that there is no workable solution or that the Budget, itself, must be revised.

 5. What are the actionable steps to complete the project?

Much thought must go into identifying the tasks and the sequencing of the tasks necessary to complete the project.  Time and cost can be estimated for each task. These estimates will allow us to see whether or not we can meet Schedule and Budget constraints.

The list of tasks will also allow us to identify other project needs such as materials, equipment, and human resources, etc.

Each task may also have Quality Standards attached to it that will dictate how the task must be undertaken. It is only through identifying and estimating the needs associated with these tasks that a workable Project Plan can be developed.


These five questions are fundamental for developing a sound Project Plan that responds to the needs and stays within the constraints, of the organization.  Although the questions are numbered, the Project Planning process is highly iterative and each question needs to be revisited many times until a workable plan emerges. It is only through detailed planning that enough information will be available to decide whether or not to proceed with a project.

Don’t rely on luck to guide your projects.  Rather, get clarity around these five fundamental requirements and demonstrate your skill in managing successful projects.

About Jim Stokes

Jim Stokes provides project management and land acquisition services at Forestview Project Planning Services in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Jim has written a series of papers about The Importance of Project Planning available at Forestview PPS. For further information you can contact Jim directly at.

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