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The 5 Ws of Project Management

Just like journalism, successful project management answers the Five Ws: Who, what, when, with what money, and why. (As you can see, we have changed out “Where” for the much more important business question: budget.) And just like journalism, there is a sneaky important sixth question that doesn’t begin with a W: how.

And this is not just an arbitrary or cute way to tie project management to another more popularly understood field. Four of the first five questions correspond to what we call the Four Dimensions of Project Success.

The first three dimensions are popularly recognized: on-time, on-budget, and on-spec. Project managers answer the question “When” through scheduling in order to deliver projects on-time. PMs answer the question “With what money” through stakeholder management, planning, and budgeting in order to deliver projects on-budget. Finally, Requirements Management is the function that defines “What” a project is in the first place in order to deliver on the right specifications.

As we have discussed on this blog, the most overlooked dimension is the most important. That is, Did it meet the intended benefits? This is achieved through benefits realization, which gets to the “Why” of a project.

So does that mean the fifth question is some throwaway that only incidentally corresponds with the Five Ws. I’ll give you a second to go back through the list to see what we haven’t covered yet. I think you can answer that question for yourself: Absolutely not! “Who” is one of the most important questions for project management.

So why doesn’t it relate so readily to any of the four dimensions of project success? That’s because it is so important that it is a question that arches over project management itself, bridging it with portfolio management. “Who” is one of the main concerns of Resource Management, which we have long-considered the Holy Grail of Project Portfolio Management. This question also ties to the People in People – Process – Technology.

As for that sneaky important sixth question that doesn’t begin with W at all, the “How” is the aim of the founding document for every project: The Project Charter. That will be the focus of our next post.