Question forms part of
Other interview questions that are similar
What does the beginning of the project look like to you?
How do you prepare at the start of a project?
What is the first stage of project delivery?
What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
This is a very popular question for junior and intermediate project managers.
The interviewer wants to see whether you know the PM theory and principles to know how a project should be opened, but they also want to see your experience in starting projects and what your approach is.
While there are best practices with regard to how to open a project, each project manager will have a different take on what works best for them. This is what the interviewer wants to see, whether your way of working is likely to excel in the organisation.
The best approach to answering this question
This is a blend of a technical and experience based question. The interviewer is not strictly asking you to provide an example (“Tell me about a time”) but your answer will always be stronger if you are able to highlight your experience in the area.
For this question the best approach to answering will be using a modified B-STAR answer.
Let’s look at how that would go:
B – Belief – Talk about your thoughts, feelings or philosophies regarding the question – In this instance you should answer the technical aspect to the question first. Detail how you usually start your projects, what do you like to get out of the way first, how do you prepare for success?
S/T – Situation/Task – What was going on and how were you involved? – Seamlessly segue from explaining how you normally start a project to describing an actual project that you were involved in.
A – Activity – What steps did you take and why? – Using the project described already run through the steps you took at the very beginning and explain why you took those actions.
R – Results – How did everything pan out in the end? – The interviewer has only really asked about how you start projects but since you’ve gone through all the effort of describing an actual project to them you may as well tell them how it finished (nobody likes an unfinished tale) remember though the bulk of your answer should be in the Activity stage.
How NOT to answer this question
Don’t sound like a textbook. The interviewer is not your teacher marking you on your project management essay, they will know full well what the supposed ‘best practices’ are for initiating a project. They are not interested in hearing that. They want to hear what you do first and why you think it important. Add some personality to your answer.
Don’t confuse the question. This is asking you what you do ‘first’. Not how you plan your projects or any other number of questions. Make sure your answer is directly about what you do first and why you feel that first step is the most important (or the one you give priority to out of all others)
Don’t avoid the question. If you’ve never worked a project in a professional setting then you need to go further afield, think outside the box. Think about volunteer work you have done, or some extra-curricular activities, have you ever organised a holiday with friends? Even a school project that you had to complete. Anything is better than saying “I have never done that”.
When you are given a new project what do you do first? – Example answer
The first thing I do when given a new project is to seek out the project sponsor and ensure that we are both on the same page. I prefer to do this face-to-face but will settle for a call or video conference if that is all that is available. I feel that at the start of a project it is crucial to make sure that nothing is lost in translation and that all expectations are clear.
In my current organisation the sponsor for most of my projects is the Chief Technology Officer. Just recently I was given a new project that would deploy a major upgrade to one of our core systems. I made sure that I caught a coffee meeting with the CTO so that we could discuss the project.
I enquired as to what the expectations were from both the business and from him personally. I find asking this is key as my CTO has higher expectations than the wider business so while the business was expecting delivery by the end of the year my CTO was expecting it much earlier.
Similarly with regard to quality and budget, the business had minimum quality requirements and a budget restraint. My CTO however had higher quality requirements and made me aware that the budget could be expanded if I needed it – something that was not in the project presentation provided by the business!
Finally I confirmed with the CTO which project members were available and made a mental note to which colleagues I had worked with before and which were new to me (for the new ones I tried to pry information from the CTO as to their skills and work style)
As far as first steps goes I feel like getting the project sponsor, in this case the CTO, to have a frank and open discussion as to the aims and expectations is the best thing to do. After my conversation with the CTO I was in a really good space to start my planning, with the next step being to bring the project members into the loop.
In the end we managed to deliver the upgrade within the timelines and meeting the quality expectations set by the CTO – something that might not have been given the proper attention had I not taken that first step.“