Mastering the First Critical Strategic Question–part 1

The second part of Terry Schmidt’s book Strategic Management Made Simple focuses in on the relationship between the four critical strategic questions and how they are captured visually in the Logical Framework approach.   As a review from the first part of his book which introduced them, those four critical strategic questions are:

–What are we trying to accomplish and why?

–How will we measure success?

–What other conditions must exist?

–How do we get there?

The first chapter of this second part focuses in on the first critical strategic question, “What are we trying to accomplish and why?”

1.  Linking Objectives into Logical Levels

As mentioned in the first part, the answer to one part of the first critical strategic question, namely, “What are we trying to accomplish?” is the Outcome of the project, sometimes referred to as the deliverable.   There are two answers to the other part of the first critical strategic question, namely, the “why” part:  these are the Purpose of the project, and the Goal of the project.   The Purpose is the business need for the project, whether it be the need by customers in the marketplace for the product or the service that the project will produce, or the organization itself that will end up using the result of that project (for example, an improvement to existing processes).    The Goal is the way that the organization will profit or benefit by offering this new product, service, or result.     I say the word “benefit” because it is possible that the result may not be a profit per se, but an intangible benefit such as positive name recognition, which could happen if the organization participates in some charity event.

Once the Outcomes have been decided upon that are consistent with the Purpose and the Goal, then you can work on the Inputs that will create those Outcomes.   This is in reality skipping ahead to the fourth critical strategic question of “how do we get there?”  But for now, let’s just consider these four items, the Inputs, Outcomes, Purpose, and Goal and label them collectively as the Objectives.

They should be logically linked as follows:

Inputs –>  Outcomes –> Purpose –> Goal

This is visual shorthand for saying,

“if the Inputs are applied, then the Outcomes will be produced,”

“if the Outcomes are produced, then the Purpose will be accomplished,” and

“if the Purpose is accomplished, then the Goal will be achieved.”

As the fourth chapter of the first part details, there may be higher level Purposes at the level of a program, higher level Goals at the level of a portfolio, or even a higher level Vision that ties them all together at the level of the enterprise.   But for now, let’s just consider the four levels of Objectives of a single project.

2.  Linking Objectives Thematically

How are these levels linked to each other, not logically, but thematically?    For that, see the chart below:



Definition Elaboration
Goal The higher-level strategic Objective to which the project contributes by fulfilling the Purpose of the project. The 10,000-foot view.  This can be the overarching umbrella for multiple projects and programs in a single portfolio.
Purpose The impact or behavior change(external or internal) we anticipate by producing the Outcomes of the project This can be the overarching umbrella for multiple projects in a single program.

NOTE:  This is the Objective of the project that’s usually missing in strategic planning.

Outcomes The specific result(s) the project team must deliver by managing the Inputs to the project. Interim deliverables, final end products, and processes.  The project team is responsible for delivering the Outcomes.
Inputs The activities and tasks we undertake and the resources necessary to produce the Outcomes of the project. Project management software can be helpful here in implementing the plan and the schedule.

As you can see from the chart, you start with the Outcomes, or the “what” question.   Then you ask yourself the “why” question and link upwards to fill in the Purpose and Goal.    Once these are linked logically and thematically according to the description in the above chart, you then link downwards to fill in the Inputs.   

This is how you build the Logical Framework with the project team.   How do you involve the stakeholders in the Logical Framework?   That is the subject of the next post.


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