Mastering the Second Critical Strategic Question–Part 2


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 second chapter of this second part focuses in on the second critical strategic question, “How will we measure success?”

1.  Introduction

The answer to the first question will yield you the Objectives, which are the …

–Outcome of the project (the answer to the question “What are we trying to accomplish?”)

–Purpose of the project (“why is the project being done from the standpoint of the customer–what business need is the product of the project is trying to fill?”)

–Goal of the project (“why is the project being done from the standpoint of the organization doing the project–what strategic need are the benefits from the project going to meet?”)

These answers to the first question involve vertical linkages between the Outcome, Purpose, and Goal objectives.

The answer to the second question will ask you “how do you measure success” for EACH LEVEL of the objectives.   In the last post, I discussed Terry Schmidt’s four tips for meaningful measures of success, which are:

  • Valid–they accurately measure the Objectives
  • Verifiable–clear, non-subjective evidence exists or can be obtained
  • Targeted–quality, quantity, and time targets are pinned down
  • Independent–each level in the hierarchy of Objectives (Outcome, Purpose, Goal) has separate measures

In this post, I will discuss the fact that there is a horizontal linkage between the objectives and their success measures and what the implications are of this.

2.   Measures Sharpen Vague Objectives

If you find that you are unable to think of a measure for success for your objective, then the problem may not be with the measure, but with the objective itself.    If you decide that you want to “improve your corporate image” as a Goal for the organization, then how would you measure this?   You would have to pin that objective down in order to measure it.   Improve it for whom–your customers, your industry association, your vendors?    Improve it with respect to the quality of the products, with respect to the level of community involvement, or with respect to the attention of a particular demographic segment?   Once you start pinning down or sharpening a vague objective, then you start to see specific measures that you can use to be able to decide whether your project is successful.

3.  Choose Valid Verifiers

Let’s say that you are going to hold a conference where you invite speakers to give various presentations to the members of your organization.   If you say as a success measure that the presentations should be well-attended, and you say specifically “each speaker should have 50 people attend his or her presentation”, then would it be enough to count those who registered for the event and divide by the number of speaking “tracks” going on in various rooms?  No, because that assumes that the people attending the conference have an equal preference for the various speakers.   You might have to change the registration method so that it specifies the speeches the person intends to go to.   But this assumes that people will not change their mind, and will go to the speeches they “promised” to go to during the registration process.    The most valid measure is probably to assign someone to actually count the number of people at each speaking event.    Even if you put a little survey on each person’s chair and count up the number of surveys returned after each speaking event, that would assume that everybody attending the speech actually turns in a survey.

4.  Importance of Purpose Measures

You may be focusing on getting a measure for the outcome of the project, but remember, the whole reason why you are doing the project is so that the product, service, or result that it creates is utilized by a customer to fulfill some sort of business need.    The Field of Dreams leap of faith “if you build it, they will come” has to be fleshed out by an understanding of why they will come.    If the product isn’t desirable from the customer’s standpoint, then it won’t generate any benefit for the organization (the Goal of the project) because they won’t buy it.

Purpose measures are sometimes referred to as being written in “from-to” language, because they always involve some sort of change.   After all, if your product is new, that is the change.   If it is an improvement on an existing product, well then that is the change.   But you need to capture the difference in the market before the product is introduced and then afterwards.    You need BOTH of these figures to know what the market went from and where it went to after the product has been introduced.

5.  Conclusion

Measures that are valid make Objectives verifiable, and thereby give confidence that your team will be able to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the project was indeed a success.   Although Outcomes are most easily measured, it is important to include measures for your Purpose and your Goal, because the project has deliver value to the customer if they are going to shell out their hard-earned money to purchase it.   Then and only then will your organization reap the benefits of having done the project.

Now, there may be some objectives that, for whatever reason, are too difficult to measure directly.   What do you in those special situations?    That is the subject of the next post.

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