Six Essential Questions

by Michael C. Kelly


Project teams working through the project life cycle effectively address six milestone questions. Each question requires discussion among the project team members.(1) The questions are not isolated, self contained, one-shot queries. Instead they are iterative.(2) For example, once we've answered question two, and depending on the answer, we may be drawn back to the earlier questions in the sequence. These questions are part of the project's progressive elaboration process.

Here are the essential questions for discussion:

1. Is this project the right thing for us to do?

Here the project team defines the project goal and its relationship to the strategic plans of the organization. This usually involves the owners and sponsors of projects, though other stakeholders could be involved. (See the Project Screening Checklist to assist in answering this question.)

2. Can we do it?

At this early point the project team is already considering risks and alternatives. It's best to think of this as a time for sober second thoughts. Consideration is given to two themes.

  1. Alternatives
    1. While we agree that this project may be the right thing to do, is there something else we could do instead?
    2. If yes, then return to question 1: Is this new version of the project the right thing to do?
    3. If no, and after considering risks, proceed to question 3: Can we put a plan together?

  1. Risks
    1. What are the risks? To answer this consider the following:
      1. Assessing Risks (creates a prioritized list of known risks, including their degree of imminence, exposure and consequence)
      2. Reducing Risks (looks for ways to eliminate or reduce the known risks)
      3. Controlling Risks (explores ways to change the project to compensate for unknown risks)

3. Can we put a plan together?

At this point the project team defines the project scope - a collection of all the information, arranged in a hierarchial manner, needed to produce a detailed project plan. The scope should include a work breakdown structure and a list of resources - including working, material and abstract resources.

4. Can we do the plan?

The project team now enters the forced logic phase of the PM life cycle. They will continue with progressive elaboration techniques to develop detailed project plans that include critical path analyzes, resource commitments and scheduling issues.

5. Are we on the right track?

Things are serious now since the project team is now under way with the project. As tasks are assigned and completed the team tracks and controls progress. This includes the management of change in the project.

6. Did we do the right thing?

The project team now returns full circle. They are in a position to leave a project legacy, which involves quantitative and qualitative audits highlighting the principle learning from the project experience. They can now leave a legacy for future projects.

These six questions represent a minimum requirement for any project. Other questions may be required depending on the scope and complexity of the project.



  1. These discussions could involve other stakeholders as well. 
  2. The act of repeating the questions throughout the life-cycle of a project keeps the project team focussed on the project’s  ultimate goal and on the vicissitudes of the project's moment.

© 2011  Michael C Kelly