Mastering the Third 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 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.   Diagonal Linkages

In the last post, I reviewed how Terry Schmidt outlines the process of coming up with assumptions

  • Step 1–Identify Key Assumptions (11.1 Plan Risk Management, 11.2 Identify Risks)
  • Step 2–Analyze and Test Them (11.3 Perform Qualitative Risk Analyses, 11.4 Perform Quantitative Risk Analyses)
  • Step 3–Act on Them (11.5 Plan Risk Responses)

These correspond, in Project Management process languages, to the processes listed in parentheses.

The concept of diagonal linkages comes from the fact that the outcomes are linked vertically, like so,






Each of the above are linked to the Assumptions in the same row in the following manner:

Inputs + Assumptions = Outcome

Outcome + Purpose Assumption = Purpose

Purpose + Goal Assumption = Goal

3.  Monitoring and Controling Assumptions

In the three steps mentioned in the last post, the risk management processes in the planning process group were covered (processes 11.1 through 11.5), but the assumptions in the Logical Framework approach can also be used to handle the risk management process in the monitoring & controlling process group called 11.6 Control Risks.

This can be done in the following ways:

  • If risks are beyond your control, and you are simply accepting them at present, then you can monitor them periodically during the project。
  • If risks can be indirectly controlled by influencing conditions underlying the Assumptions, then you can do so.
  • If the assumption can be directly controlled, then this can be brought into the project as an Objective.

In the last case, then Outcomes and/or Input activities need to be added to the project design.

4.  Other Project Management Activities affected by Assumptions

Assumptions can also influence other project management activities, such as:

  • Communications–assumptions can be relayed to stakeholders, to program managers who are coordinating your project with others, and to senior management, in order to alert them for the need for management reserves to take care of unforeseen risks.

Finally, assumptions serve the role of giving your project management team confidence that the project plan is robust, that is, it can be maintained in the face of external or internal risks to the project.

This concludes the discussion of the third critical strategic question.   The next series of posts deals with the fourth critical strategic question, “how do we get there?”


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