Strategic Project Management Made Simple–Linking the 4 Crucial 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.

1.   Introduction

The last post talked about the 4 crucial strategic questions, which are:

–What Are We Trying to Accomplish and Why? (Goal, Purpose, Outcomes)

–How Will We Measure Success (Success Measures, Verification)

–What Other Conditions Must Exist (Assumptions)

–How Do We Get There? (Inputs)

Notice how I included a word or two in parentheses after each question.    This represents the element in the Logical Framework Approach that the answer to the question corresponds to.

The important points to remember about the 4 crucial strategic questions are a) they need to be answered in order, b) they are linked by If-Then statements, and c) you need to check the links between each question.   This post deals with these important points.

2.   Answering in order

You need to discover the following:

–Purpose (what is the product, service, or result that the project will create, and what impact will it have)

–Objective (what are the characteristics of the product, service, or result; in project management language, these are  called the project deliverables)

–Goal, which in Terry Schmidt’s book, refers to the strategic reason for doing the project (in project management language, this is sometimes called the business need).

THEN you need to ask yourself about

–Success measures, and how they will be subject to Verification

THEN you need to ask yourself about

–Assumptions, those elements outside the project (including the impact of events, and stakeholders within and without the organization)

THEN you need to ask yourself

–Inputs, those resources and activities needed to produce the Objectives.

3.  If-Then or Causal Logic

The language that links the questions is If-Then or Causal logic.    If we achieve certain Objectives, then we will create a product, service, or result that serves a Purpose, which will then contribute towards the company’s strategic financial Goal.    Another way of putting it is that achieving certain Objectives will cause the creation of a product, service, or result which will serve a Purpose, and which will in turn cause the company to help achieve its strategic financial goal.

If-Then Logic relationships are not necessarily the same as what you see on a Gantt chart, that shows the sequence of activities on a project.    How is If-Then, or causal logic, different from sequential logic?    Here’s an example from a psychology class I took at the University of Illinois.    The professor was trying to teach the concept that “correlation is not causation”, and so he showed a graph showing the results of a survey of different towns in France where the two variables measured were a) the number of different storks seen, and b) the number of babies born in the town.    There was a very strong correlation!   Were more storks in some towns causing the number of babies born in those towns to go up?

He asked us to puzzle the question and come up with an answer.    I just happened to be taking a French class, and I saw in our textbook one crucial fact about French culture that solved the puzzle:    in rural French towns, storks often made their nests in the chimneys of houses.     Suddenly, I got the reason why there was a correlation.   The storks weren’t causing the babies’ births, but rather the number of storks and the number of babies were both independently related to the same variable, which was the number of houses in the town.   The more houses, the more chimneys, and therefore the more storks, because they liked creating their nests in those chimneys.    Also, the more houses, the more families, and therefore the more babies.    As the number of houses go up, both the number of storks and the number of babies went up, so these two variables were correlated, but there was no direct causation between them.    A Gantt chart shows the sequence of activities, but does not show which ones are causal and which ones aren’t.   For example, if you are building a house, you must wait for the plaster on the wall to dry before you start painting it.    In a Gantt chart, the activity “plaster wall” must come before “paint wall”, and there must be a lag of a certain amount of time between those activities to allow the paint to dry.    But the mere act of plastering the wall does not cause the subsequent activity of painting it; it just must come before it.  

4.  Checking the Links

Now, suppose you have completed the first question, and have a project with specific Objectives that achieves a Purpose that contributes to the company’s strategic Goal.   If you go to the next question, which is the Measure for Success, and you can’t answer the question, then you may have to go back to the first question to refine it.

If you can’t find a measure for your success, then your Objectives may be too vague.    So if you are ever getting stuck with a question, go back to the previous question and see if you can make it more specific.    Like I said in my last post, this is why you don’t ask your GPS device to “take me someplace nice.”   It’s not specific enough of an Objective.   How would you verify if the place you arrived was “nice” or not?   That’s going to depend upon the criteria you set for what a “nice” place consists of.   If you on a family outing, you may want to go to a sports game, but your spouse may want to go to a movie, and the kids may want to go to a theme park.    The place you go to will have to achieve the Measure for Success that all members of your family can agree on, if your Purpose to have a pleasant family outing with the Goal of achieving family togetherness.     You may have to go back to each family member and poll them about what they would like to in order to get an Objective that is specific enough that everyone can agree upon.

5.   Conclusion

This gives the basic information about the 4 crucial strategic questions, what they are and what the important points are that you need to remember about them.   These crucial strategic questions will form the strong backbones of your project plan.

Next week, in Chapter 3, Terry Schmidt will relate these 4 Crucial Strategic Questions to the Logical Framework, which puts all of the questions into a matrix that links them all together in a single picture.



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