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Connecticut CPA
September/October 2017
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The best speakers I've heard at leader-
ship trainings always leave the partici-
pants with a useful tool to take back to
the office. I tried to employ this same
technique during the sessions I led
at last year's CTCPA New and Young
Professionals Leadership Conference
one session on managing upward
and the other entitled "Learn to Say
No: Don't OverPromise and Under
Deliver." In each session, I provided
attendees with five questions that I use
whenever I'm assigning or starting a
new project.
The great part about these questions
is that they can help both the staff and
the supervisor ensure that the project
goes well. It all depends on which
perspective you have. Staff can use
the questions to "manage up" and en-
sure that they completely understand
the project and have all the informa-
tion to complete it. Supervisors can
use the questions to ensure that they
provide their staff with all the informa-
tion necessary to set their colleagues
up for success.
Putting the Five Project Management
Questions into Action
I spoke with Kathryn Ta, a supervisor
at Whittlesey & Hadley in Hartford, who
attended last year's CTCPA New and
Young Professionals Leadership Con-
ference. She said she keeps the five
questions written down at her desk. "I
give it out to staff for each job," she
told me.
Kathryn also lets the staff know that
they can challenge her if she forgets
one of the questions. It helps her keep
her focus on managing the job, rather
than just managing her workload. "It
helps me step back and see the big-
ger picture. Did I talk to the staff about
what they need to learn versus did I get
my work done on time?" she explained.
(How great is it to work for someone
who thinks this way about her team's
development on the project in addi-
tion to completing the project?)
In addition to Kathryn's staff challeng-
ing her, she's also learned that it is
1. When is the final project due?
Is there an internal deadline,
a filing deadline, or a client-
imposed deadline?
2. When does this portion of the
project need to be complete?
When does the next team
member need to start working on
the project? There needs to be
time to review and process the
project deliverables.
3. How long should it take?
This helps evaluate progress and
determine if there's a problem.
If a 20-hour project isn't close
to halfway done after 10 hours,
it's time to take a step back. The
staff and the manager need to
determine why. Were the initial
expectations unreasonable?
Does the staff person need more
training or tools? Next, the staff
and supervisor need to develop a
plan to get back on track so the
project can be completed on time
and on budget, or close to it.
4. What does the supervisor
know that the staff needs
to know?
This may be the most important
question to maximize efficiencies.
Supervisors need to let staff
know about nuances, client
preferences, or any odd-ball
things they may know about the
project (or maybe learned the
hard way). If you're the staff, this
is one of the best questions you
can ask your supervisor.
5. Why are we doing it?
This is not "because the IRS said
to file the form" or "the bank said
we need to have financials." This
is the real, root "why" behind what
you are doing. This information
will likely drive the staff's level of
engagement on the project.
Five Questions
That Lead to Better
Project Management