Top 30 Project Management Interview Questions

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Jan 18, 2016
Top 30 Project Management Interview Questions
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Project Management Institute (PMI) estimates that India needs 5,00,000 new project managers in 2016-17. Also, growing globally at an average of 12% (Source: PWC Survey), project management is pretty much the best career decision of your life. If you happen to be considering the next step in your career, you now know which skill to go after.

While every interview is different and varies according to each company, industry as well as the interviewer, we have attempted to put together a list of 30 most likely project management interview questions that you can prepare for. Since project management requires you to hone your soft skills and technical skills alike, your interview will most likely be a combination of technical, behavioral and situational questions.

Here is a list of 30 project management interview questions to help you crack your interview. In case you have attended project management interviews previously, we encourage you to add your questions in the comments tab; we will be happy to answer them. Don’t forget to spread the word to the community of fellow job seekers. All the best!

Technical Questions

Q1: What is the difference between a project, a program and a portfolio?

Projects are undertaken for a specific or a related set of purposes. A program is a set of projects managed in a coordinated manner in order to achieve different parts of an overall goal. A portfolio encompasses a set of different programs and other portfolios that help the organization achieve a high level business purpose.

Q2: What is the critical path of a project or a schedule network diagram?

The critical path is simply all the tasks that determine the end date of your project schedule. If one of those tasks is late by one day, then your project end date will be extended by one day. Often, there will be tasks that are not on the critical path; this is due to the slack in the project schedule. Slack is the amount of time a task can be delayed without impacting the start date of a subsequent task. If you refer to your current schedule, you can examine the Gantt chart and quickly identify the tasks that have some float compared to the tasks that have no slack.

Q3: What are the knowledge areas you must pay cognizance to as a project manager in order to efficiently handle the project and attain the anticipated outcome?

  • Scope management
  • Resource planning
  • Cost optimization
  • Application of Lean Six Sigma
  • Procurement and risk management
  • Benchmark analysis
  • Process improvement
  • Quality planning
  • Automation
  • Root cause analysis for major deviations

Q4: How do you estimate using three-point estimating methods?

Three-point Estimation is based on three different estimated values to improve the result. The concept is applicable for both cost and duration estimation. This helps in mitigating the estimation risk. It also takes into consideration uncertainty and associated risks while estimating values. Estimation can be carried out  for an entire project, or for a WBS component or for an activity.

In a three-point estimation, the expected value of a task is determined by calculating the  mean of three different values. These three different values are Optimistic Value (O), Pessimistic Value (P), and Most Likely Value (M).

Q5: What creative problem solving techniques can you use for unique problems?

It is important to engage the team in solving unique problems as brainstorming can often yield positive results. Additionally, the Fishbone diagram and De Bono’s thinking hats can also help one approach a problem creatively and effectively.

Q6: DefineRAID in the context of project management.

RAID stands for risks, assumptions, issues and dependencies. These are vital components that a project manager (PM) should always be aware of. There are always risks about actions and a PM must take least risk action. Unless assumptions about any estimates or actions are clear, these can go wrong. Issues and dependencies also limit the choices of actions.

Q7: What are the ways a project time schedule can be compressed?

Crashing and fast-tracking are two methods for accelerating a project time schedule. The crashing method tries to optimize the schedule, making use of the time floats available while keeping costs under control. Fast-tracking is to make selected activities faster by applying additional resources if necessary. It may mean paying team members over time or paying for the time of a consultant.

Q8: What is Earned Value Management (EVM)?

At every monitoring point, the planned value (PV), earned value (EV) and actual cost (AC) are monitored. Performance Measurement Baseline (PMB) is the aggregation of all planned values. Variances from baselines are determined and schedule variance (SV) and cost variance (CV) are calculated. If earned value is equal to the planned value, then the project is achieving what it is supposed to. If theschedule or cost variance is significant, appropriate action needs to be taken to correct the slips. Estimate at completion (EAC) is estimated and compared with the budget at completion. In case there is a slip, the cost consequences will be known.

Q9: State the role of Isikawa/ Fishbone diagrams in determining root causes of risks.

This is a graphical method of determining cause and effect relationships leading to a specific risk. One could then determine mitigation actions for that risk.

Q10.What do you understand by the Pareto (80/20) principle/analysis?

This is a statistical analysis method that helps a PM prioritize between several actions. The basis is that there are about 20% actions which, when executed gets you 80% of the results. In quantitative analysis this is used to identify the 20% of the causes that create 80% of the problems.

Q11: What is the triple constraint triangle in project management?

All projects are carried out under certain constraints – traditionally, these are cost, time and scope. These three important factors are commonly called “the triple constraint”. Each constraint forms the vertices, with quality as the central theme:

  • Projects must be delivered within cost
  • Projects must be delivered on time
  • Projects must meet the agreed scope – no more, no less
  • Projects must also meet customer quality requirements

Q12: What is a decision support system (DSS)?

A DSS is used vastly in enterprise applications, mainly MIS & ERP based systems. It provides automation and stability in the decision making process of the organization. There are two types of DSS, structured and unstructured. DSS connects many flow charts in the organizational process. It can be formulated and built statistically or stochastically.

Q13: What is a fish bone diagram?

Fishbone diagrams, also called as Ishikawa diagrams (or cause-and-effect diagrams) show the reasons behind a certain event. In project management, this tool is used in quality management and risk management processes.

Q14: What is CMMI?

CMMI stands for Capability Maturity Model Integration. It is a process improvement approach that provides organizations with the essential elements for effective process improvement.

Q15: What is Six Sigma and how is it important in project management?

Six Sigma is a measure of quality that strives for near perfection. It is data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects. In order to achieve Six Sigma, a process must not produce more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities. If applied effectively, six sigma can approach can help finish a project on time, be reducing the risk of effects/failure.

Q16: What is a risk register?

It is a register/document that contains all the identified risks of a project, including a list of actions/potential actions.

Q17: What are some techniques used for defining scope?

Some of the techniques used for defining scope are product breakdown, requirements analysis, systems engineering, systems analysis, value analysis and alternatives analysis. Alternatives analysis can be achieved by lateral thinking brainstorming and pairwise comparisons.

Q18: What is a work breakdown structure (WBD) and how does it affect work estimates of tasks/activities?

Work breakdown structure defines the work activities required for the project and the sub activities of each of the work requirements. The breakdown goes down to levels where all the work required is clearly understood. The work breakdown dictionary includes additional details that help define the tasks. Time and effort estimates can be accurate when everything about the work and dependencies are known.

Situational & Behavioral Questions

Unfortunately, providing you exact answers to these type of questions is impossible, but we sure can share tips as to how you can approach these questions. Since project management has a lot to do with the manager’s attitude, these questions can be tricky, but if you answer honestly, wearing the cap of a capable project manager, your answers will be convincing enough.

Q19: Tell me about a situation in your previous projects wherein you had to adapt and manage change and what were the challenges involved.

The best forte a project manager can display is adaptability to change and the mental agility to decide when to alter the plan. If you have prior experience in project management, you must have encountered a situation like this and you must produce an honest account of the situation encountered. Make sure while answering the question, that you bring across your understanding of agile project management effectively.

Q20: What are the most important values and ethics you should demonstrate as a leader?

Integrity: being truthful and trustworthy and having conviction is an essential leadership competency. The effective leader demonstrates values and ethics in personal behavior and integrates these values and ethics into organizational practices and activities. A good leader acts with the courage of his/her convictions. While leaders are open with their employees and model honesty, transparency and fairness, they do not violate confidences or divulge potentially harmful information.

You may also share your knowledge and learnings from the PMI code of ethics.

Q21: How do you determine the communication needs of stakeholders?

The communication needs of stakeholders depend on their position in the power/influence grid, power/interest grid as also impact/influence grid. Salience modeling is another technique to determine who is the most effective for the interest of the project. This is a qualitative assessment and will determine the kind and details of communications they need for the project.

Q22: When was the last time you didn’t delegate properly and what was the consequences?

This question will assess your capability to learn from mistakes and deal with information overload. Even if you have not faced a similar situation in your professional life, try to draw parallel inferences from your personal life as a testimony of your ability to learn from mistakes.

Q23: What is your biggest weakness?

While this question sounds like a general interview question, but its approach in the project management background makes this question, extremely important for your interview. As a project manager, you are supposed to thoroughly understand your team. You are supposed to hone their positives and motivate them to fight their negatives. Thus, it is important for a project manager to first understand himself as a person. Try to give an honest answer and remember to also share how you plan to deal with your weakness and not let it come in your way as a project manager.

Q24: How have you improved project management process at your current firm?

You might not have achieved something phenomenal in your current firm and that is absolutely alright. What the interviewer wants to assess by asking you this question, is your ability to make a difference and contribute as an individual. This question is your chance to prove that you can blend in, yet stand out.

Q25: How have you persuaded employees to follow your strategic vision for the organization?

Leaders develop ownership by involving employees in the decision-making and planning process. They provide resources to facilitate employee success and empower employees by devolving authority to get things done efficiently. Effective leaders develop processes that engage employees in achieving the strategic vision.

Q26: How have you encouraged the learning and development of employees?

Learning happens at every opportunity. Your answer to  leadership interview questions like this should demonstrate that effective leaders develop employees by mentoring, coaching and providing performance feedback on a daily basis. Leaders act as models for their employees, but the most effective leaders not only teach by example, they take a personal interest in the learning of others and serve as mentors. Additionally, they manage learning throughout the organization by continually focusing attention on the learning agenda and providing the resources to facilitate it. Finally, leaders monitor learning by getting regular feedback.

Q27: Why does a PM need to be very proactive?

A PM needs to be able to see any signs of a deviation in time and/or cost to project progress as early as possible. This gives the team as much reaction time as possible to correct the situation or to minimize the impact.

Q28: What methods have you used to gain commitment from your team?

Leaders gain commitment by influencing and persuading the team to set objectives and buy into the process. They establish a spirit of cooperation and cohesion for goal attainment. They take the team into the performing phase as quickly as possible. Leaders encourage debate and ideas from all stakeholders. They inspire a commitment to success and excellence by demonstrating passionate personal commitment and promote a productive culture by valuing individuals and their contributions.

Q29: All leaders have to deal with conflict situations. Describe a recent disagreement you personally had to handle.

Leadership interview questions that explore how you handle conflict are looking at your ability to understand and respect different views. Demonstrate your ability to settle disputes by focusing on solving the problem taking into consideration the personalities involved. Show how you evaluate the viability of the different dispute resolution mechanisms available and are able to provide support and expertise to other people. Demonstrate how you are able to negotiate a compromise.

Q30: What is most challenging aspect about being a project manager?

While you can answer this question based on your understanding and past experiences, make sure that while answering this question you do not demonstrate your inability to deal with some of the most critical aspect of project management. Challenges can be empowering, so try to structure your answer around this.

Got a question for us? Please mention it in the comments section and we will get back to you.

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