Mastering the Second Critical Strategic Question–Part 3


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 the last post, I discussed the fact that there is a horizontal linkage between the objectives and their success measures and what the implications were of this, mainly that creating meaningful measures of success can help clarify vague objectives.    However, some objectives are inherently difficult to measure, and how do handle those is the subject of this post.

2.  Leading Measures

Sometimes your key success measures won’t be available for a long time and you need earlier data to adjust your plan.    Let’s say you’re planning a conference and you want to make sure the rooms are large enough to hold those who are planning to go to the various talks.    If you have people register for the event without indicating what speakers they are interested in listening to, then you won’t know until the day of the event how many people are going to be in each room.   You may have to bring in extra chairs to a room, or even change the room if simply can’t accommodate the number of people that want to see that particular speaker.    One way of creating a leading measure of the success of each speaker would be to have the attendees indicate when they register who they plan to see.   Yes, it is possible that people will change their mind the day of the event and decide to go to see someone else during that time slot.   However, as a leading indicator, the number of people who register for a given speaker will be a fairly good predictor of the number of people who are actually going to see that speaker, and this leading indicator will help the facilities planner to figure out what size room will be needed for each event.

3.  Proxy Measures

There are some measures that are too difficult, expensive, or unreliable to measure.    In my Toastmasters club, the number of members is one of the measures we use to gauge how healthy a club is.   A club is considered healthy if it has 20 members.   However, how do you measure the level of enthusiasm of those members?   “Enthusiasm” is something that may be hard to capture, but then consider the proxy measure of how many “new members” there are in any six-month period, compared as a ratio to the total number of members.   If you have a lot of people drop out while new members join, you may have on the surface a club that is as healthy as a club that has all 20 members reinstate their memberships every six months, whereas the enthusiasm of the second club’s members will be higher because they all engaged with the program.    So I look at the ratio of new members to members to look at how various clubs in our Area are at attracting and keeping those members.

4.  Unobtrusive Measures

The very act of measurement can distort data accuracy.   If I am doing a talk at Toastmasters, and I ask, “how many of you liked my speech?”, I’m going to get some people who put their hand up because they either want to spare me the bad news that they didn’t like it, or they want to spare themselves the embarrassment of admitting that they didn’t like it in front of the whole group.   If you are doing a survey of a teacher, it is important that those filling out the survey realize that the teacher will not directly review the results.   In that way, they can feel that their opinion can be freely given without the concern that the teacher will be able to figure out whose handwriting it is!

So the horizontal linkages between measures and objectives can only have a positive effect on tightening up vague objectives.   If there is not a direct linkage, a linkage that is leading, proxy, or unobtrusive, i.e., a more indirect linkage, is still useful in making sure the objective is valid.

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