Mastering the Third 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 third chapter of this second part focuses in on the third critical strategic question, “What other conditions must exist?”

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.  The four tips for meaningful measures of success 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

These answers to the second question involve horizontal linkages between the objectives and their success measures.

The answers to the third question will involve diagonal linkages between the objectives and the assumptions that you need to make in order for them to be achieved and measured.

2.  Assumptions Carry Consequences

Terry Schmidt uses the language of assumptions.   The word means “a factor in the planning process that is considered to be true, real, or certain, without proof or demonstration” according to the 5th Edition of the PMBOK© Guide.   One example I can cite is that of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

There were two weeks in October 1962 when the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union was in danger of becoming a very hot war indeed.    How hot?   Oh, a couple million degrees, because that’s the temperature in the center of a nuclear explosion.   You see, we almost had a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  At that time, John F. Kennedy was the president of the United States and Nikita Khrushchev was the Premier of the Soviet Union.

The United States had deployed nuclear missiles in Turkey that were capable of reaching Moscow, and so in a sort of global chess game, Khrushchev conceived of a plan to counter this by deploying nuclear missiles in Cuba that could be pointed towards the U.S.

On October 14th, 1962, their plans were found out.   A US spy plane on a reconnaissance mission over Cuba took pictures of seemed to be a missile base construction site.

The CIA analyzed the photographs identified the objects as being medium-range ballistic missiles.   These were the rockets that would carry nuclear warheads to their targets in the U.S., but they did not see any warheads themselves.    So they assumed that the warheads had not yet been delivered, and that the Soviet Union would soon be sending ships to deliver them to Cuba.

The President was informed of the existence of the missiles in Cuba and he held a meeting with members of the National Security Council, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. military.    There were three options discussed, diplomacy, a limited blockade to prevent the warheads from reaching Cuba, and a full-scale invasion.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously agreed that the only option to remove the threat was a full-scale attack and invasion.   They figured that since the nuclear warheads were not yet in Cuba, the Soviets would not be able to stop the U.S.

The National Security Council preferred the blockade option, which Kennedy accepted provisinally, but the military was directed to prepared for the full invasion just in case.

A former Secretary of State, Tommy Thompson, urged President Kennedy to initiate a diplomatic solution by responding to a telegram sent by Nikita Khrushchev.   President Kennedy listened to Tommy Thompson, and made a deal with the Soviet Union, basically saying “You pull out the missiles from Cuba, and we will remove ours from Turkey. ”   Khrushchev agreed, and the crisis was resolved.

In 1992, it was discovered that the CIA had made a mistake.    Remember how they had assumed there were no warheads in Cuba?   It turns out that there were over 160 nuclear warheads already in Cuba.   So the blockade accomplished nothing.    But more importantly, if Kennedy had listened to the military, who based their strategic plans on what the CIA had assumed, the invasion would have failed and nuclear war would have resulted.

So assumptions can have consequences that are even fatal.

The next post will show the three steps for managing assumptions.



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