6 Questions to Ask at the Start of Every Project

You meet with a client. They share their vision, you share yours. You go away and create an efficient and beautifully rendered deliverable. You’re practically beaming when you show them how you’ve crafted their disjointed ideas and fragmented thoughts into a masterpiece.

And then they say, Yeah, this is not what I had in mind.

Gutted! There’s nothing worse than that feeling–knowing you have spent time and resources you can’t get back on a project that has ultimately failed.

How did this happen? Why did it happen to you?

I’ve been there. It’s happened to me, and I had to scrap more than one project because of it. And then I realized why.

The answer is simple: miscommunication. I didn’t ask the right questions. Even worse, when I did ask questions, I probably didn’t wait for the client’s answer. In fact, I probably asked and answered the questions in my own mind instead of listening to what the client had to say. Then, I turned in a deliverable that was totally different than what the client wanted when they hired me.

Learn from my mistakes. Asking these six questions at the start of your project will save yourself that dreaded negative response from your client.

1. WHY

Always start with why.

Why is this project important or necessary?

Here’s where you identify the problem you’re trying to solve. Understanding what the client wants to accomplish and what role this project serves is absolutely critical and will ultimately help you create a better outcome. Take this opportunity to fully unpack the problem and understand what the client wants. Look for opportunities to simplify things or approach the problem differently. Educate the client on what’s possible and find a way to align your expertise with their needs.

2. WHO

Who are the project stakeholders?

Identify who has a vested interest in this project. That includes you and your client. Identify all of the stakeholders on the client side. Have they done similar projects in the past–what worked and what didn’t?

Who is the ideal customer you’re helping with this project?

For client-facing projects, you need to know who they are targeting (their customers). Get a clear understanding of who your project is helping. Oftentimes, we are short-sighted and only see the client we’re working with and not the customers that they’re trying to reach. Aim for the customers, and you’ll always have a happy client.

Who is the key decision maker for the project?

As a project manager, it’s crucial to define who is the key decision maker on the client’s end. There’s two possibilities that are not fun: everyone makes decisions or no one makes decisions. Instead of struggling through this tough situation, try to narrow the client into one contact. This person will be responsible for giving you all the resources you need and making sure you get paid on time.

Who are the key players in this project?

If you’re working with others, you’ll need to start building a team early. Decide who’ll work best on this project.

Who’s doing what?

As you’re mapping out your project, you should assign clear tasks to everyone. Doing this early prevents gaps and overlapping of responsibilities.

3. WHAT

What are you hoping to accomplish?

What is the project’s timeline?

Aim to create a detailed timeline with obtainable goals along the way. Depending on the project, you may want to go daily or weekly, but I would not suggest getting broader than that. You need to describe where you should be each step of the way and how you will get there.

What is the return on investment?

It’s so important to understand what they’re hoping to get out of this project. Are they looking for increased engagement, more sales, an improved website experience, etc.?

What are the expected deliverables for this project?

Pin the client down on what they actually expect from you on this project. While they may be looking for more sales, how will you deliver that? Perhaps you’ll create targeted landing pages. Understanding and agreeing to a set deliverable will put an end to goal shifting.

What will your project look like?

This is specific to design projects, like creating printables or web designs. Make sure that you and your client have a clear agreement on the visual branding of the project.

3. WHEN

When will everything happen?

When are your expected deliverables due?

Once you know what your project is, you need to map out when your project’s deliverables need to be available to your client. Of course, the client wants everything done yesterday– but you know what’s reasonable for you and your team. Don’t rush the process.

When will your project go live?

Know when your client needs the project to go live– in many cases, this will not be the same time when you send in your deliverables. This information will help you create a realistic timeline.

When will you reach project milestones?

While you have one main end goal, you should also create mini goals and celebrate when you achieve them. Reaching these mini goals will give you and your team a boost.

When will you meet with your team?

You should consider how often you’ll need to meet with your team. You want one major meeting at the start of your project to hash out who will be doing what and field any questions your team may have. But don’t clutter the rest of your project with endless meetings that add no benefit. That’s what Status Hero is for!

When will you meet with your client?

You also need to meet with your client. You should define at your initial meeting how involved the client wants to be– some are hands off, and some want daily updates. Go with what works best for you, your team, and the client.

4. WHERE

Where will you start?

Where do you start?

In a recent podcast with Pat Flynn, successful entrepreneur Ramit Sethi shared that he spent 50% of his time before a product launch doing research alone–no product development, no marketing. That’s exactly what you’ll need to do to make your project successful. Spend your client interview in research mode, and make sure that you have all of the relevant info you need to create your project.

Where will the work appear?

Ask where your work will appear and for permission to refer to the project in your case studies for other clients.

Where will it be worked on?

Here’s where you discuss the logistics of working on the project. Will you use Photoshop, WordPress, Mailchimp, etc? Will it be limited or will the client have access?

Where will you communicate?

As I mentioned earlier, you don’t want to spend all your time in meetings–but you do want keep a constant stream of communication. That’s where you can use Status Hero to stay in constant (but painless) communication with your team and know everyone’s status.

Where are potential obstacles?

Pinpoint potential problems ahead of time and make an alternate plan in case something falls through.

6. HOW

How will you make it happen?

How much is in the budget?

Self-explanatory, but definitely something you should always ask.

How does the client want to be perceived?

This is often overlooked, but you should always understand what impression the client wants to give. For example, do they want to be casual and beginner-friendly or serious and professional.

How will you create this perception?

Consider the content and the visual elements that comprise your project and how they can be used to convey the right impression of your client.

How will you review and test the project?

Will you perform a test at each goal interval? What will the process be? Will you allow for client feedback at these intervals?

How will you measure success?

After your project is completed, what is your target? You should decide that before you start so you have a clear goal.

Final Thoughts

Remember that your project is not about what you can do, but what your client needs. Asking these six types of questions (and listening to the answers) will help you create an awesome project that’s sure to make your client happy.


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