Strategic Project Management Made Simple–4 Critical Strategic Questions

This is a series of notes on Terry Schmidt’s book Strategic Project Management Made Simple, which adds the Logical Framework Approach to traditional project management in order to facilitate strategic planning.    The second chapter of his book is Building Strong Project Backbones, and introduces the reasons the basic questions you must ask when doing strategic planning.

The key problem in project planning is that people start worrying about the how of the project, before being clear on the what and the why.    The four critical strategic questions are as follows, and they need to be asked in this order:

1.  What Are We Trying to Accomplish and Why?
The question “what are we trying to accomplish” will produce the Objective of the project.   But you also must ask why it needs to be done.   That gives you the Goal of the project, the strategic goal of the organization which the objective of the project must serve.

2.  How Will We Measure Success?

Let’s say you have come up with the Goal “deliver customer value.”   How would you be able to tell whether the project, once completed, actually fulfilled this Goal?   If the answer is, “I don’t know,” then your Goal is too vague, because you are not able to come up with a way to measure the success of the project.   How would you be able to tell whether the project, once completed, actually fulfilled the stated Objective?   Again, if the answer is, “I don’t know,” then your Objective is too vague.   It would be like going to the GPS device in your smartphone and typing in “someplace nice”.    You need to type in a specific address.    Similarly, you need to develop a specific measure of success.

3.  What Other Conditions Must Exist?

What other conditions or factors must exist outside of the project for the project objectives to be successfully completed?    These factors are referred to as Assumptions, and this question introduces the idea of Risk Management into the strategic picture, although Stakeholder Management could also be included in this concept of Assumptions as well.

4.  How Do We Get There?

This is where you breaking down the overall Objective into smaller and smaller objectives in order to figure out how to achieve that Objective.

According to Terry Schmidt, the problem with many project managers is that they want to get involved in the technical details of question #4 (“How Do We Get There”) before the Objectives are stated, aligned with Goals, and clarified by asking what Measures of Success are going to be used to confirm that they have been reached.

In sum, don’t work so hard at climbing the ladder before you have made sure that the ladder is leaning against the right wall!

The next post will discuss the If-Then structure that links all of the four critical strategic questions, and is used to break down the Objectives into smaller and smaller units.


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