10″Dumb” Questions To Ask Before Accepting A Project

Back in 2004, I was asked in one of my interviews with Humana:

What would you do if you were given by your manager two important projects, and you knew you didn’t have enough time to complete both projects by the deadline?

My response had two options:

  1. I would probably work through the night or as along as I needed to in order to get them done.
  2. At some point, I would go back to my manager to ask her which one takes preference.

Some would consider this a good answer. Maybe it was. I got the job.

But here’s what I need you to know: It’s been 12 years and I can’t recall a time when I got past option #1.

To be fully transparent, I’m uncertain that avoiding option #2 has been a good decision.

Here are two (2) reasons why:

1 – Stress will catch up to you.

I admit I used to “wear” my 24+ hour work day badge with honor. What better way to show I’m committed to the job than sacrificing sleep to get the task done?

Unfortunately, the long hours and the accumulation of stress affected my emotional intelligence and ended up almost costing me my job.

It didn’t help that most of those all-nighters became moot points because the work had to be redone due to changes in assumptions or errors outside of my control.

2 – Two projects are never of equal importance

Regardless of what anyone may have you think and believe, at any given time no two projects are of equal importance.

First, understand that there’s always a scoring system. Whether it is explicit or subjective, someone has a rating scale to determine which project is more valuable to the company.

Second, negotiating deadlines is not necessarily a reflection of your competence. Negotiating deadlines properly is evidence of someone that is aware of their limitations and has a clear idea of what it is required for them to produce quality work.

And third, asking for help is different from asking your boss to fix it for you. Remember, being independent doesn’t mean one tackles the world alone. It simply means being able to hold your own.

What’s the fix?

The best tip I have heard and learned to use is to ask the dumb questions.

Here is a list of questions I keep in mind when someone asking me to work on a project.

  1. How accurate do you want it to be?
  2. What are the must have features?
  3. What’s nonnegotiable?
  4. Which project has the highest impact?
  5. What happens if one of the projects is delivered later?
  6. Who else has the skills to do one of the projects?
  7. What’s the latest date that you can have the project?
  8. How often do you want status updates?
  9. What’s the best way to communicate with you in case I have questions?
  10. What’s would be considered a successful work product?

You’d be surprised how often people unnecessary work because they started the work with wrong assumptions.

What would have been your answer to the question at the beginning of this post?




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