I'm attending Payson Hall's Fundamentals of Successful Project Management class this week. Day one focuses on defining the project.
My big learning for the day was something Payson calls "The Cheeseburger Talk." This is a lunch conversation you hold one-on-one with your project's sponsor as soon as possible after you've taken the job of managing the project. The Cheeseburger Talk has two purposes. First is to understand the context of the project—how it was initiated, what constraints you will be working under, where the constraints came from, and so on. The second purpose is to initiate an effective working relationship with the sponsor.
Payson writes about The Cheeseburger Talk in the Project Management Instutute's San Diego Chapter newsletter (PDF, see page 4). He lists the key topics to cover in The Cheeseburger Talk, and offers a set of questions to guide the conversation.
One important question to ask the sponsor is, "If at any time I have concerns about the viability of the project, when do you want to know?" Payson says that sponsors always answer, "Right away!" That answer gives you the sponsor's explicit permission to talk about concerns.
In the PMI San Diego newsletter, the question doesn't include the word "when." To me, that little word makes a big difference. Without that word, the question suggests that the sponsor may never want to hear your concerns. With the word, the question assumes that the sponsor will want to hear about your concerns, and the only thing left to decide is when.
If all I had learned today was The Cheeseburger Talk, I would have been satisfied. I learned lots more, and I'm delighted.
Experiment: Read Payson list of Cheeseburger Questions. Which questions do you know your sponsor's answers to? Which questions do you want to know your sponsor's answers to?
Experiment: Take Payson's class.