The questions you should ask when starting a project

Edit: Apparently I have just mostly reinvented the Helmeier Catechism. Oh well, this one is mine.

In a private correspondence recently I presented what I claimed were my “Standard questions”. I’m not actually sure it’s true that they are – I’ve certainly taken this approach before, and asked similar questions, but I’m not sure I’ve ever broken down the thought process into quite such an explicit list of questions. They’re good questions, and I think I’m going to treat them like a check list in future.

  1. What does success look like?
  2. Are there similar things already out there?
  3. If yes, why aren’t they good enough?
  4. If no, why not?

(This isn’t actually quite the list I presented – I forgot the “no” branch when presenting it before)

You don’t have to cancel the project if an answer you don’t like to one of these question turns up (although if you discover that there are loads of existing things out there which do the same thing and are plenty good enough, or that the best success could possibly look like is that you’ve spent a ton of time producing something no-one wants you should probably think about it). The purpose of these questions is not to stop you doing the project, it’s to force you to think about its aims and context thoroughly enough that if you go ahead with it then you do the project well.

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3 thoughts on “The questions you should ask when starting a project

  1. Jon Pretty

    The journey is worth considering too; what you learn by embarking upon a project. This could, of course, be considered part of the success criteria, but I think there’s a lot of satisfaction to be had from doing something that’s already been done, especially doing it without your mind polluted by what already exists. Though I’d agree that far too many projects that don’t need to exist nevertheless do.

    1. david Post author

      For sure. Many projects are worth doing regardless of whether they produce anything useful – That’s part of why I said these questions shouldn’t necessarily result in you not doing the project.

      I think it’s still worth asking going in whether the project actually is useful or whether you’re just doing it for the fun of it, and these questions are good for helping you figure that out.

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