How To Plan A Project With One Question

“What’s next?” is a question to ask others and a question to ask yourself when planning a project. Ask it and keep on asking it after every answer. String the next actions together and you have a complete project.

What’s next?
If you cannot identify a next action, the problem is not correctly or completely defined. If you do not know what is next, the next action is to find out where to get more information about the problem.

The first answer is not always the right answer.
You are starting a new project and you tell yourself the first step is to prepare the project charter. This is not the next step because you cannot prepare the charter without knowing what the objective of the project is. The real next step is to schedule a meeting with the sponsor. Ask if you can do the next action or do you need to do something before.

What are you doing?
Is there an action in your next step? Do you know who needs to do what? The next step needs to describe someone doing something specific. “Call the sponsor”; “meet the sponsor”; “the sponsor approves the charter” are clear actions describing who needs to do what. “Initiate the project” does not say what needs to be done for project initiation and it is not clear whether its you or the sponsor who does the initiation.

What is the result?
The magic word here is “to”. What is the action going to produce. You are calling the sponsor to schedule a meeting. You are meeting the sponsor to get the objective of the project. The sponsor approves the charter to initiate the project.

When do you do it?
Make a date for your actions. Give them deadlines. “Call the sponsor on Tuesday”; “Meet with the sponsor before Thursday”; “The sponsor approves the charter by Friday.”

Put it all together.
You now have everything you need to plan your project. You have deliverables; you have a list of discreet tasks; you have the resources needed and you have the dates when the actions need to be done.

Why, why, why, why, why do you need this?

? ? ? ? ?Projects are about delivering solutions to problems and to find the solution to a problem you need to understand the problem. To understand a problem you first have to make sure you have identified the true problem.

Most people will tell you about the symptoms or start with a possible solution when asked “What is the problem?”. The five whys is a technique that will help you find the problem causing the symptoms. It consists of repeatedly asking why until you get to the problem.

For example:

What is the problem?
I think we need a faster server.

Why do you think we need a faster server?
The system is too slow.

Why is it too slow?
It takes forever to prepare management reports.

Why does it take forever?
I need lots of data from different places.

Why do you need lots of data?
I need it to assemble the management reports.

Why do you need to assemble the reports?
I don’t have all information I need in one place.

Five whys later, we have the true problem and we know that the solution is creating the management report in the system.

Project documentation describes the problem being solved and what is needed (the requirements) to solve the problem. This method is very useful when creating the problem statement for the project and for identifying the real requirements for the solution.

Related:
5 Whys – Wikipedia
Determine The Root Cause: 5 Whys – iSixSigma