Hello readers and welcome back to our project management series. Today we shall be starting a new series known as the project management career series. Are you a certified project manager and looking to begin your career as a project manager or joining an organization as a project team member? Are you tired of your current work place and willing to change companies?

If you answered yes to any of the above, then this article is meant for you. The project management career series aims to provide insights to common project management interview questions and a practical approach to answering these questions.

For ease of understanding and clarity, it would be structured according to the project management knowledge areas.

Before we begin, let’s remind ourselves of the general project management terminologies and concepts.

Project – A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.

Project Management – Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.

Project manager – They are organized, passionate and goal-oriented who understand what projects have in common, and their strategic role in how organizations succeed, learn and change.

Project team – These are teams whose members usually belong to different groups, functions and are assigned to activities for the same project. It is usually temporary and often lasts for the duration of the project.

Knowledge Areas and Process Groups

There are 10 knowledge areas and 5 process groups in project management and they are used to provide an overview and interactions of processes in project management

Knowledge areas

  • Project integration management
  • Project scope management
  • Project time management
  • Project cost management
  • Project quality management
  • Project human resource management
  • Project communication management
  • Project risk management
  • Project procurement management
  • Project stakeholder management

Process groups

  • Initiating process group
  • Planning process group
  • Executing process group
  • Monitoring and control process group
  • Closing process group

Triple project constrains

  • Project schedule
  • Project cost
  • Project scope

While we might not get direct questions in an interview setting asking about the terminologies listed above, they are a must know as they form the basics to which other questions might be answered.

Here are the some of the most common general project management questions you should expect during interviews

Q 1. What is a project or what are the main characteristics of a project

Answer: A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. The temporary nature of projects indicates that a project has a definite beginning and end. The end is reached when the project’s objectives have been achieved or when the project is terminated because its objectives cannot be met.

Or you list the characteristics

  • It is a temporary endeavor (definite start and end time)
  • Creates a unique product, service or result

Q 2. What is the relationship between project management, program management and portfolio management?

Answer: Start by defining the three terminologies, and then explain the relationship

  • Portfolio management is a strategic plan that aligns with the organizational strategies by determining and selecting the right programs or projects, prioritizing the work, and providing the needed resources.
  • Program management harmonizes its projects and program components and controls interdependencies in order to realize specified benefits.
  • Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.

In explaining the relationship, a program can be described, as a group of similar projects while a portfolio is a group of programs, sun portfolio and operations. You can further elaborate on the differences by highlighting the relationship in their scope, planning, management, etc. The table below gives a detailed relationship among the three.

Q 3. What are the three main constraints of a project?

Answer: The three main constraints of a project are (1) project time, (2) Project cost (3) Project scope. If necessary, you can go ahead and explain the relationship among the three and how they relate with the project quality. In a practical case, you might have to sketch the constraint triangle while explaining to better convince your interviewer.

Q 4.What do you think your primary function would be here as a project manager?

Answer:

To ensure that whatever project I am working on, the goals are met within the project constraint (time, scope and cost) and also within the organizational goal. (You should have researched the company’s organizational goals before an interview)

To serve as the link between the strategy team and the project team (in a projectized organization).

To satisfy the task needs, team needs and individual needs on every project.

The interviewer is simply asking for the function of a project manager. This should; however, be tailored to the industry you are applying in.

Q 5. What is the difference between a project and an operation?

Answer: A project is a temporary endeavor with a definite start time and an end time to create a unique produce, while operations are day to day activities that are set up to achieve the strategic and tactical goal of a business.

The main difference is the duration. While a project is temporary, an operation is a continuous process.

Use examples to support your points. Also explain how an organization can have a good mix of both projects and operations or how what is a project to organization A is an operation to organization B.

Q 6. What is the relationship between organizational strategy and project management?

Answer: The organizational strategy provides guidance and direction for project management. It is a top-level management decision that defines the organizational type, the organizational goals and the project methodology which all affect the way a project is managed within an organization.

Q 7. Can you tell us about your skills and how they would be of benefit to you in achieving your project goal?

Answer: As a project manager, I have a balanced mix of ethical, interpersonal and conceptual skills. I also realize that my primary duty as a project manager is to manage and coordinate resources (human and machine) in order to achieve the project goal. Since human resource able to reason, act on their own and are the most difficult resource to manage, I have developed the following interpersonal skills: leadership, team building, motivation, communication, influencing, decision making, political and cultural awareness, negotiation, trust building, conflict management and coaching.

Q8. Explain the project life cycle.

Answer: A project life cycle is a series of phases a project passes through from initiation till completion. The life cycle consists of five phases, which are: project initiation, project planning, project execution, project monitoring and control, and project closure.

You should note that while monitoring and control is described as a phase, it actually cuts across all the other phases. Where possible, use a diagram to explain.

Q 9. Who is a project stakeholder?

Answer: Stakeholders include all members of the project team as well as all interested entities that are internal or external to the organization

Q 10. How do you determine a successful project?

Answer: A project can be termed successful when the project goals have been met within the specified constraints.

Q11. Mention and describe the characteristics of the various organizational structures.

Answer: Organizational structures are enterprise environmental factors and have a lot of influence on the way a project is implemented. It ranges from functional structure to a projectized structure with a variety of matrices between them.

  • Functional organization – project manager has little to no power as organizations as staff members are placed in a functional unit and all staff report to their functional managers.
  • Weak matrix organization – this is similar to the functional manager but with a project manager acting as a project expediter. The project manager reports to the functional manager who takes the bulk of the decisions.
  • Balanced Matrix – This recognizes the need for a project manager but does not grant the project manager full authority over the project and funding. The project manager works with the functional manager.
  • Strong matrix – Project managers have a high level of authority, full time project team members with authority greater than the functional managers.
  • Projectized organization – the project manager is in charge of the project having full authority having a great deal of independence and authority. The project manager reports directly to the senior management.

The table below shows the influence of organizational structures on a project:

Q 12. What is the function of the project management office?

Answer: A project management office (PMO) is a management structure that standardizes the project-related governance processes and facilitates the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools, and techniques.

The above are some of the few generic questions that you can encounter when you go for an interview as a project manager and the right way to go about answering the questions.

It is important to note that the answers provided above have been well structured to cut across various fields. These same questions can be structured in a different way and it is therefore important for us to understand what the interviewer is asking. Once we can comprehend the question, then answering it becomes a piece of cake.

In answering interview questions, it is also important to give relevant industry examples. For example, using automobile industry examples in a medical field might show that you are not vast in the medical sector. A good project manager should be flexible and able to fit into any industry except of course technical project managers who have specialized project managers for a particular field.

Interview questions might sometimes not be direst and might even be case interviews (we would talk about that in some future article), but as earlier mentioned understanding the question is key. Ask questions when you are not clear. The first step to answering a question successfully is proper interpretation of the question.

In our next article we will talk about answering project scope management questions in interviews.

That’s all we have for today and once again thank you for reading. Do not forget to drop your thoughts and questions in the comments section.

REFERENCES

  1. Project management body of knowledge (PMBOK)
  2. http://www.everydayinterviewtips.com/15-common-project-management-interview-questions
  3. http://corpslakes.usace.army.mil/employees/career/pdfs/ProjectManagementInterview.pdf