One of the secrets of a good project manager is not the ability to give answers, but the ability to ask the right questions. Everything about the project is a question. Will it succeed? When will it finish? Are we going to achieve customer satisfaction? Everything that matters about a project is merely a question, until the project is complete. Asking the questions, managing the process of understanding these questions, discussing them, disagreeing about their answers and how to get the answers is the gist of what project management is about.
When we are obsessed with answers, we miss the chance to do better. Answers for us mean stability and that is why sometimes we rush to them. Because we feel that we are “safe” because there is no more uncertainty. Unfortunately, most of the time that sense of security is false. Because the answers are sometimes tainted by our ego, fear, politics, or simple ignorance.
For example, if we ask, will we finish on time? then we can rush the answer and say “of course we will,” and close the subject right there. This happens a lot when the key stakeholders are intolerant of disagreements. Then the whole team might say “yes sure we will finish on time” when everyone knows that we will not. A good project manager should encourage asking of such questions, and exploring their roots before dismissing them with a fast answer. So, the project manager should encourage the team by asking the tough questions that need to be asked and encourage others to participate. When answers are given too early, challenge them. scrutinize them. Do not let yourself or your team members get off too easy.
Another example is questions about how things are being done. Sometimes we get so used to the way we do work that we do not even question why we do things the way we do. Sometimes it takes a fresh perspective, like a new comer, and sometimes a trouble maker to raise these difficult questions. Again, it would be easy to get angry at people who question the status quo. Sometimes people are not diplomatic in how they raise questions or issues. So, we allow our ego to direct our anger at the inappropriate way the person raised the issue so we avoid dealing with the situation objectively. Losing focus on side issues would be a lost chance to address the issue and grow and learn. A good project manager would refuse to dismiss the question and stop the attempts of team members to scold the “inexperienced team member” for asking such questions. Instead, the project manager should welcome the chance to explore the question and allow time for it to be pondered before we rush into answers.
Sometimes questions are not meant to be answered, or time is not right to answer them. Accepting this fact sometimes is difficult to team members and the project managers who prefer to get questions answered immediately to achieve stability and stay in a comfort zone. Afterall most important questions related to project success will not truly be answered until end of project, and that is OK. Project Managers should lead team members in accepting that we do not have all the answers and we need to manage the uncertainty that comes along with that.