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The Top 20 Project Management Questions I Get Asked Most Often

The Top 20 Project Management Questions I Get Asked Most Often

I’ve been involved in training Project Managers for over 25 years. And there are some Project Management questions I get asked time and time again. Most often, it’s by students in a live training session. But, more recently, I’ve been seeing the same sorts of questions crop up online.

Not surprisingly, these questions have informed many of the choices I have made about the articles I write for this OnlinePMCourses site. But I thought it was to collate all the project management questions I get asked most often.

This Article

The Top 20 Project Management Questions I Get Asked Most Often

So, in this article, I will do two things:

  1. I’ll give an outline answer to my top twenty questions
  2. I’ll also signpost articles that give fuller answers, so you can follow up and get more detail

This is an update of an earlier article. So, where I have updated a few of the questions. I have changed the question to the way it is expressed now. For example, I am now less often asked ‘What is Agile?’ and more commonly asked about agile versus predictive Project Management. However, I have usually kept the elements from the original answer here, too.

There are Four Themes to the Questions People Ask Me

One thing I’ve noticed is that the questions people ask seem to fall into four big themes. So, that’s how I shall structure this article. Here are the themes:

  1. How can I build a Project Management career, and what learning will help me?
  2. What are the basics of Project Management, and how can I get them right?
  3. I want to know about the wider Project Management landscape
  4. How can I manage my projects really well?

I’ll take these one at a time, and group my questions into these themes.

Theme 1: How can I Build a Project Management Career, and What Learning will Help me?

Project Management Questions: Career

The first theme for Project Management questions is all about the career, and developing your skills. Here are the five questions I’ll tackle:

  1. How Can I Get into a Project Management Career?
  2. Will I Make a Good Project Manager?
  3. Should I Take a Project Management Course?
  4. Should I Pursue a Project Management Certification?
  5. I’m studying for exams. How can I remember all that stuff? 

And the single question I get asked most often is…

How Can I Get into a Project Management Career?

A lot of the courses I run are for new and first-time Project Managers. Indeed, that’s my main audience for OnlinePMCourses. And many of those people want to get into project management, but don’t know where to start.

That’s just where I was, over 30 years ago. And it’s one of the drivers for why I started OnlinePMCourses. So, it’s no surprise that one of the first long-form articles I wrote answered this question. Take a look at ‘Can You Get a Project Management Job? (Here’s How)’.

Of the three routes I suggest in that article, the best is definitely to re-cast your current role as a PM role. You’ll find plenty of tips as to how to do that, along with six case studies for people in different situations. If you want the answer to this question, I’m sure one of those examples will resonate.

And, when you are ready for your first Project Management job interview, these resources may help you:

Will I Make a Good Project Manager? 

When people ask me the question, Could I make a good Project Manager?’ my honest answer is ‘I don’t know’.

But my answer to the question Could I make a good Project Manager?’ is most definitely yes, you can.

Because Project Management is not some innate skill-set that you are born with. It’s not genetic. And, while there may be some genetically predisposed personality traits that will make it easier to thrive as a Project Manager, anyone can gain the skills and the attitudes you need. It takes discipline and a recognition that there is no one ‘right way’.

Assets

If you see a Project Manager doing a good job, you don’t have to do it the way they do. That’s why, when I wrote ‘What Makes a Good Project Manager? (7 Top Assets)‘, I thought of the things you need to acquire as assets, rather than traits.

Because traits are about who you are or, at least, who you’ve become. But, if you invest wisely, you can build up assets. And, with the right assets, you can become a good – no, great – Project Manager.

If you want to know more about what the job involves, read our article: What You Need to Know about the Project Manager Job Description.

Should I Take a Project Management Course?  

Yes, there are many good Project Managers who are self-taught, learned on the job, or absorbed their skills by watching others. But that’s the hard way. In my article, ‘Are You Ready for a Project Management Course (Why you are)?‘, I argue that you probably have a lot of the knowledge you need. But a good PM training course will help you join the dots, fill the gaps, and understand the principles.

So, if you do decide to get some Project Management training, which course should you take? I give some solid advice in my article that offers 10 Revealing Questions to find the Best Project Management Course.

Online Project Management Training

Here at OnlinePMCourses, we focus on… online Project Management training. I spend a lot of my time training Project Managers (mostly in the UK, but also in western Europe and the US) at live training events and seminars – including online live events. But, as I did my research, I realized there were good reasons why online training is often better. So, I wrote The Definitive Guide to Why a Good Online Project Management Course Beats Live Training.

Should I Pursue a Project Management Certification?

This ‘certification question’ is a big one. And I discuss it at length with Dawn Mahan. But the place to start is my article: Project Management Qualification: Should you go for a PM Certification?

In summary, the answer is:

Build a Business Case

Research the job market where you want to work: geographically, sectorally, and functionally. See which certifications are recognized or in-demand, and the impact each one makes on your recruitment prospects and salary expectations. Then research the costs and time involved in each certification.

Use all of this data to assemble a business case. And use that business case as the basis of your decision-making.

The Easier Question…

The way some people ask the question is far easier to answer: ‘If I want a Project Management career, do I need to get qualified?’

My answer is a straight ‘no’. There are plenty of successful Project Managers who have no qualifications, or who only acquired them later in their careers, out of interest.

But, equally, there are many employers who either value qualifications in their selection process, or make them mandatory. You need to know the market you’ll be pitching yourself into.

Which Certifications or Qualifications?

And there are plenty of qualifications to consider, too. So start with our article on one of the most vexing of Project Management questions: ‘Project Management Qualification: Should you go for a PM Certification?

The primary options are:

The PMI

We have other articles about the PMI, and also summaries of their annual ‘Pulse of the Profession’ reports:

I’m studying for my PMP/CAPM/PRINCE2/Scrum exams. How can I remember all that stuff? 

The secret to this is a combination of:

  • Excellent study materials
  • Disciplines study organization
  • Active learning processes

I prepared an article to help with this, which covers all the scientifically-supported tips for better learning. Take a look at How Can You Get the Best from Your Project Management Learning? If you are studying for your PMP exam (the most common among our readers), we have even more resources in our PMP Study Guide – an exam prep resource kit.

And we have plenty of recommended study courses, for:

Bonus Question: What books should I be reading?

I love books and reading. And it always pleases me when people ask me for reading recommendations. I’ve created a number of articles listing recommended books, along with book reviews/summaries. And there is also our biennial roundup of the best Project Management blogs, if you are thirsty for more ideas.

Theme 2: What are the Basics of Project Management, and how can I get them Right?

Project Management Questions: Basics

I get a whole load of Project Management questions about the basics. And that isn’t surprising, as most of the people I meet are new to Project Management. Here are the questions I’ll answer:

  1. What do I Most Need to Know about Project Management?
  2. Isn’t Project Management all Form-filling and Bureaucracy?
  3. What are the Most Helpful Tools for a Project Manager? 
  4. How Should I Get Started on My Project?
  5. How Should I Work with my Stakeholders?

And, at the core of their concerns is the question…

What do I Most Need to Know about Project Management? 

Do you know how there are some questions that can floor you?

You know the answer, but don’t know where to start. It’s a big question, and the answer isn’t straightforward. So, after you’ve answered and moved on all the better answers come to your mind…

That’s why I wanted to take some time and answer this question carefully. The result is one of my favorite articles. And, it’s one of our shorter ones: What do You most need to Learn about Project Management? (10 Critical Concepts)

Isn’t Project Management all Form-filling and Bureaucracy? 

Here’s a question that sometimes comes up at the start of live training sessions. And, in some organizations, I completely get that this is a legitimate concern. They can have far too many templates and forms to fill.

My answer, though, is ‘no, it’s not.’ 

You should only fill out a form, or complete a template if it helps you to either:

  1. deliver your project to time, to budget, and to specification, or
  2. do so in a transparent and accountable manner

That is, the two things that really matter are getting the job done, and good governance. I have a video called Key Project Management Deliverables: The Documentation You Really Need. And if you want more on this topic, read my article, ‘Project Documentation: Do You Know the 7 Keys to Getting it Right?

What are the Most Helpful Tools for a Project Manager? 

And this is another question of the same sort. I always avoid answering it in terms of software. What matters is the underlying techniques. Which software does it best today, and which one suits you best, is both personal and prone to change rapidly.

My considered answer to this question is in the article ‘10 Tools for Better Project Management Results’.

But, you may also like:

How Should I Get Started on My Project?

This is a more practical question. It’s also one that I spend a lot of time answering in all my basic Project Management courses.

I know that a small number of participants in both my live and online Project Management training think I spend a little too long on it. But my response is simple: this is CRITICAL (sorry to shout). Your project definition is absolutely vital. Without getting this right, you are doomed to fail.

So, what is a Project Definition?

The first video in our free four-video Project Management fundamentals course covers the elements of how to define your project, as does our Project Definition Toolkit (in great depth).

However, if you want a straightforward article, with all the essentials, take a look at ‘The Key Components of Your Project Definition‘. And, if you want more, and fancy a slightly different take, try:

How Should I Work with my Stakeholders?

Most new Project Managers instinctively recognize the importance of stakeholders. But few realize just how critical they are. I always argue that:

Your stakeholders will determine the success, or not, of your project. Click To Tweet

So, let’s start with the basics

Stakeholder engagement is a big and important topic. So, we have a lot of articles here to help you with it:

How can I Keep My Boss Happy? 

One of your most important stakeholders is your boss, sponsor, or client. And of course, don’t we all want to keep our bosses happy? Certainly, we do. Because we want to:

  • make our lives easy, and
  • win recognition and promotion

This was one challenge I found easy when I was a project manager, working for external clients and bosses in my own firm. So, I wrote about it in ‘Keep Your Boss Happy – How to Do it without Without Working Hard‘.

Theme 3: I Want to Know about the Wider Project Management Landscape

Project Management Questions: Landscape

As people get more knowledge, they want to survey a wider scope of the PM landscape, so the questions they ask go broader than the basics of simple Project Management. These are the questions we’ll look at:

  1. What are the Big Trends in Project Management?
  2. How can I Handle Managing Multiple Projects at the Same Time?
  3. I have to Take-over Someone Else’s Project Part-way through. What Should I Do?
  4. Agile Vs Predictive: What’s that all about?
  5. What are PMOs, Programs, Portfolios…?

And Project Management questions don’t get broader than…

Is Agile still a trend? Maybe it’s now a fixed point in the PM universe.

If it is a trend, it’s now because it is moving outside of the IT Projects environment. I identified that in this article: What’s New? Project Management Trends: Your 2020 Update‘.

From time to time, I review it and update it. But you should also take a look at our annual summaries of PMI’s Pulse of the Profession report, in which PMI asks a load of topical Project Management questions of a wide range of respondents:

Finally, we also reviewed some of the best Project Management surveys we could find, here: Project Management Survey: A Guide to the Best Ones.

How can I Handle Managing Multiple Projects at the Same Time?

I get this question a surprising amount. Particularly from managers who are charged with managing two or more projects, often on top of their line management role. So, this was an obvious topic for a long-form article filled with tips and strategies: Secret Strategies to Manage Multiple Projects, and in these two videos:

The article is one of my most popular, and has formed the basis for a couple of workshop sessions. But the whole question of managing your own time as a Project Manager keeps recurring. Indeed, my Brilliant Time Management seminar is probably my second most popular live seminar – thousands have attended it across the UK.

Time Management

So, I thought, why not? Since my time management methodology is based on two things:

  1. Human Psychology
  2. Basic Project Management

it seemed an obvious basis for a big guide article. And here it is: Personal Time Management for Project Managers

If you want even more; take a look at my time management books:How to Manage your Time and ‘Time Management Pocketbook’.

I have to Take-over Someone Else’s Project Part-way through. What Should I Do?

This is a topic that worries enough people to make it onto my list. And it does worry them a lot… rightly so. So in my article, One Day You’ll Need Our Ultimate Secrets to Project Takeover‘, I offer a six-step plan to help you. I also summarized it in a video: Project Takeover Formula: How to Take Over a Started Project.

But what if the project I”m taking over is failing?

Yes, taking over someone else’s project isn’t the worst thing. But it could be if you’re handed a pile of steaming …

That always reminds me of a wonderful quote from UK Project Manager, Tony Quigley:

'The alternative to incremental development is excremental development' - Tony Quigley, long before many Agilists were even born! Click To Tweet

Whether you take over the failing project, or the mess is yours to start with, you need to turn it around. So take a look at ‘Project Turnaround: How to Rescue a Failing Project’.

Agile Vs Predictive: What’s that all about?

Is there anyone left who does not know what Agile is? Yes, I think so. And if you are one of them, take a look at this short video…

What is Agile?

A surprising number of Project Managers still haven’t engaged with Agile principles or methods. And, whilst many of the managers I train already know a fair bit about Project Management, Agile is just unknown jargon to them.

Agile coach, Chris O’halloran was kind enough to set out Why You Can No Longer Ignore Agile Methodologies for us. And then lecturer, author and all-around Agile expert Chuck Cobb kindly explained What is Agile and Why is it Important to Project Managers?

But really, the best place to start is with our roadmap and resource guide, ‘I Want to Study Agile Project Management’.

Learning Agile

We offer a wide range of Agile training courses through Chuck’s Agile Project Management Academy, so if you want to learn even more, do check out his free course, ‘Learn the Truth about Agile versus Waterfall’. And, if you like his style, check out the rest of his courses.

Agile Qualifications

If you want an Agile qualification, we can offer training for those too, but do first check out our guide: Agile Certification: Your Guide to the Large Array of Agile Qualifications.

Finally, we have three more short videos, each of which looks at one of the major Agile methodologies and answers the Agile Project Management questions, in under 5 minutes, ‘What is:

But, Let’s Return to the Core Question…

‘Agile versus Predictive?’

I tackled that head-on in my article: ‘Agile vs Waterfall: Which one is Right for Your Project?‘. I also took a sideways look at the question in an arguably more-important video: ‘Waterfall vs Agile: The Big Principle at Stake‘.

What are PMOs, Programs, Portfolios…?

Here’s are three aspects of modern, mature project management that people often ask me about. Let’s start with my simple 5-minute answers to each, What is…

  1. a PMO?
  2. Prgram Management?
  3. Portfolio Management?

But, I am sure you want more details, so we asked PMO leader and a leading thinker, Peter Taylor to fill you in. He wrote a massive two-part article for you:

  1. Introduction to the PMO – The Absolute Essentials You Really MUST Know
  2. More of Peter Taylor’s Project Management Office Essentials

We have kept up to date with the help of other experts:

Theme 4: How can I Manage my Projects Really Well?

Project Management Questions: Mastery

The Project Management questions I most enjoy answering are about the route from competence to mastery. Here are the most common:

  1. How Can I Make My Project Really Pop?
  2. How Can I Get the Best out of My Team?
  3. Why do Projects go Wrong, and How Can I Stop it?
  4. How Can I Handle Difficult Stakeholders, Team Members, or Sponsors?
  5. What Should I be Learning about to Develop my Career?

And the best one of all, for me, is…

How Can I Make My Project Really Pop?

As people get better at their craft of Project Management, they increasingly ask me questions about how they can put more polish on their skills. These videos and articles will answer this in different ways, and I recommend them all.

  1. How to Make a Good Project into a Brilliant Project
  2. How to Be the Best Project Manager You Can Be
  3. Alpha Project Managers: What you’ll Learn and Whether to Buy it
  4. How Coaching Skills will Make You a Better Project Leader
  5. Getting the Best Value from Experience (and the Myth of 10,000 hours)
  6. Project Management: How to Get Better with Knowledge Management and Knowledge Transfer
  7. How to Manage Vendors: Getting the Best Results | Video
  8. What 12 Christmas Gifts will Make You a Better Project Manager?
  9. Project Communication: Stop Using Telegrams – Get Better Project Results | Video
  10. Get 18 Ways for Better Project Management

And, for a radically different view: Dull Projects are the Best: Three Reasons Why | Video.

How Can I Get the Best out of My Team?

Of course, one of the best ways to build a brilliant project is to build a brilliant project team. After all, a large part of project management is about managing the people who will deliver your project for you.

This observation is reflected in the wealth of articles I have written over the last three years about team leadership. I couldn’t begin to single one out, they all offer different, but complementary, ideas. I can truly say that, if you are leading a project team, you should read them all.

Your reading list…

Why do Projects go Wrong, and How Can I Stop it?

This question appears in one of several forms:

  • Why do projects go wrong?
  • What should I do to make my project succeed?
  • How can I stop my project from failing?

I’ll start with one of our all-time most-read articles. Actually, it’s a two-part article, which we’ve turned into a video course and a Kindle:

  1. Project Failure – Why it Happens
  2. Why Projects Fail – Five more reasons

Think…

Next, let’s highlight another favorite, which is filled with some of the wisdom I have learned over the years. It’s less practical than most of our articles, but will make you think: 12 Project Management Rules You’d be Wise to Note.

Culture

Sustainable success comes, to a large extent, from your project culture. Two articles that speak clearly to this imperative in the context of project success and failure are:

Crisis

And finally… What if it all goes horribly wrong. I’ve already pointed you to ‘Project Turnaround: How to Rescue a Failing Project’. But what can you do when everything is in chaos? Here’s where it will pay you to have read and thought about our article: ‘Project Crisis… Are you Ready?’

How Can I Handle Difficult Stakeholders, Team Members, or Sponsors?

There are no difficult people: just inflexible project managers.

What I mean by this is that people only seem difficult, if you don’t have the tools, resources, and techniques to handle their behavior. So, here are a selection of our resources to help you:

General

Stakeholders

Team Members

Sponsors

What Should I be Learning about to Develop my Career?

My number 1 topic that all project managers should be learning about is psychology:

But all aspects of soft skills and business skills will complement your technical skills:

  1. Early in your career, focus on:
    1. Self Management
    2. Personal Impact
    3. Communications
  2. Mid career, develop a greater focus on:
    1. Managing upwards
    2. Motivation
    3. Team Building
    4. Leadership
  3. As you become a PM expert, you’ll want to focus on:
    1. Business acumen
    2. Political Acumen

We have a lot of videos and articles on most of these topics!

What Other Project Management Questions Do You Have?

We’d love to hear of any other Project Management questions you have. Please do ask them below, and I’ll schedule an article to answer them (or point you to one that already does).

What is/are Videos

And you may have spotted we have done a lot of videos that answer ‘What is/are…’ questions. To date, there are 50+ Project Management in Under 5 Minutes videos in that format.  They are all on our website, and we’re collating them into free mini-courses at our Free Academy of PM. At the moment we have courses in:

  • Agile Methodologies
  • Project Definition
  • Project Planning Tools
  • Strategy and Business change
  • Project Risk Management
  • Team and Individual Leadership
  • Project Management Fundamentals

But keep logging back in, because we will be adding more soon.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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