Ask the Ten Questions

TenIt really all boils down to about 10 questions. Sit down with a client, go through these questions, and you’ll pretty much have the raw material to brainstorm and blueprint a project.

Just about any kind of project. After many years of consulting with clients about projects large and small, in areas ranging from training to technology to marketing to social media, I’ve found that the key questions are pretty much the same. Here are my Top 10 Questions for Defining a Project:

    1. What’s the point? (at the highest level, what exactly are you trying to achieve?)
    2. Why? (what are the strategic and business goals that provide the context?)
    3. What is the current state? (where are you now?)
    4. What is the desired state (where should this initiative take you?)
    5. How would success be measured? (what metrics and results will be used to gauge effectiveness?)
    6. Who is/are the key stakeholder(s), and the target audience(s)?
    7. What are the available resources? (budget, time, internal personnel, etc.?)
    8. What are the potential phases? (short-term, long-term, ongoing development?)
    9. What are the anticipated deliverables?
    10. What are the potential variables that may impact the project?

With some variations on each theme, some sub-questions, and maybe some additional major questions depending on the nature of the initiative, those questions should give a pretty thorough overview for both client and service provider.

If you are on the vendor side, you know that most clients haven’t thought their projects through this thoroughly. That’s where you can take the Ten Questions and do everyone a favor by framing out the project well ahead of time.

That’s my take – what would you add? What questions do you use to tease out the details of a project?

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Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

10 Responses to Ask the Ten Questions

  1. I think 5 and 9 are to a greater degree the same thing, and 10 is a real unknown, there whatever they say for Q10 will be incorrect in about 10 days time.

  2. Scott – here’s the difference I see between 5 and 9 – 9 answers the question, what tangible “things” (pieces of paper, software, etc etc) are we producing that will indicate that we’ve wrapped up the defined work in a tangible way? 5 answers the question, what is the business impact we’re looking for?

    10 is an honest attempt to map out the potential minefields and market changes that may impact timelines and deliverables. It’s a best guess. But this way it helps minimize the surprise element and addresses, up front, the issue of possible scope creep.

    Make sense?

  3. Tom Martin says:


    I’d add one more… “how important is the success of this project to the future of your business?” This one helps the client figure out if his/her activities as they relate to this project should be an A, B or C item on his/her daily to-do list. It also gives you, the consultant, a heads up as to how likely this project is to “get off course” due to lack of client focus.

    And for those that say the client will say, “very important” — that’s fine too. When the client starts wavering or not delivering on their end of the project, gives you something to bring back to them “you said this was imperative to your future” which sometimes can get them back on track.

    My 02. Nice post and thanks for the q’s… think I might add them to my 2p preso today! ;-))


  4. Nothing to add, but I want to emphasize questions two and five. Without clear answers to these two (even if the answer is I don’t know and part of the project is to find out) there is no happy conclusion to the project.

    I have seen far too many projects go down the wrong way because the consultant / expert / SME in charge just took the answer given at face value.

    Your role is to be the critical mind in the process, question the answers and ensure there is critical thinking on their side as well, not just doing something because they had to.

  5. I’m probably stating the obvious here, but I just want to mention that these are great questions for internal company use, too. Sometimes (or often) different departments and different people involved in a project have different answers to these questions. Without consistent expectations and project scope from all departments/people involved, the project won’t be considered successful by at least one of those parties.

    Tom’s point regarding importance of the project is excellent as well. With an internal audience, I’m often asking where a project fits in the scope of many other important projects.

  6. Steve, really good questions. What about exploring the SWOT elements to get at the competitive landscape?

  7. @CB – depending on the nature of the project, I’d put SWOT under point 3 (current state)
    @Linda – yes indeed!
    @Tom – very good point.

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  9. Enid Crystal says:

    Very nice top ten list – David Letterman would be proud! 😉
    I am constantly amazed by the blank looks I sometimes get when I ask about the goals of the project and how success will be measured. Sometimes, I find it helpful to ask the opposite – “what would happen if this training is NOT done”. That they usually have an answer for, and from there we can get to the other answers.

  10. Bill Senger says:

    Excellent questions, Steve. Wish I’d thought these through the last time I took on a product launch. I once did a slide set for a Med-Ed Advisory board meeting and the product manager would wander down the hall asking her colleagues for their opinions. I think we hit about 80 revisions on that one.

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