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3 Breakthrough Questions to Reach the Stars

As a Project Manager, how many instances has the answer been right in front of you the entire time?

You spend hours and hours searching for solutions, and in the end, there it was all along.

Project Managers learn more and more each day, inputting information that later gets forgotten. This inundation of information creates an overload. There are too many ideas getting thrown around that nothing sticks.

Typically, there is a project meeting to discuss progress and future improvements to keep a project running smoothly. A team of individuals gets together and shares each of their perspectives. Every person presents a problem rarely followed by a solution.

They look to you the Project Manager for answers. You are the leader of the team so you must have the answer key locked away in a drawer somewhere. The room starts to brainstorm. At the end of the meeting, no solution is reached, and the buck stops with you.

If this is the case for a Project Manager to get back to the basics, the fundamentals of your industry and profession in project management. Now, how can I start talking about basics when breakthroughs are what we are searching for? Fundamentals seem like taking steps backward rather than blasting through the ceiling. Complexity creates confusion. Simplicity fosters understanding.

That is why these three fundamental questions lead you and your team to breakthroughs:

1. What If?

Put on your yellow hat (De Bono’s six thinking hats) and start to get optimistic. Think of the possibilities. What if your application could track progress and suggest potential changes to the customer? What if the equipment was used in multiple stages of the project? What if you used this widget instead of that widget?

These scenarios lead to discoveries. Asking the question gives you the answer. Seek out other uses for your resources.

This ‘what if’ question can be used while wearing the black hat as well. De Bono defined the black hat as devil’s advocate. Instead of asking optimistically, you question pessimistically. What if the application has bugs? What if you need more equipment than you estimated? What if this widget breaks?

Again, you are putting yourself in every situation possible. If plans worked accordingly, there would not be a need for project managers. Someone would create a plan and ‘voila,’ success.

2. Why?

A simple one-word question that is as hard to ask as it is for some people to say no. Why are we taking this project in that direction? Why do we have so many resources on one project? Why should I use this instead of that?

‘Why?’ is a probing question. It forces your audience to think. Instead of going through the motions because that is how this organization does things, why stops you in your tracks. It gives pause to the reasoning behind actions.

3. Why Not?

A contrarian question to ‘why?’ but as effective. Again, this question forces your audience to think. If something is impossible, why can’t it be done? I list this question last because it lends itself most to breakthroughs.

‘I cannot get this to work.’ Why not?

‘The sponsor will not support the direction I want to take the project.’ Why not?

‘No company has this much effort and resources towards research and development ever.’ Why not?


Get your team thinking this way. Force the habit of asking these questions. These questions do not have to be verbalized. Internalize them with your ideas. Be a leader by showing how to lead. Challenge your assumptions.

The ways in which you use the questions is not as important as putting these into practice. The breakthrough lies within the action.

Giving your project team a voice and fostering collaboration will help with project team chemistry. They will trust in you. Using their ideas to solve problems further enhances this chemistry and trust. This approach to problem-solving not only leads to breakthroughs but also eases the pressure and stress on you.

You are no longer the master of the answer key. The team itself holds the answers.

In what ways do you see yourself using these questions? Is it a group setting where multiple ideas can spread their wings or do you internalize them?

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