Strategic Project Management Made Simple (2009) is a guide outlining how to develop clear and impactful strategies for projects of all sizes. It offers a practical framework for managing stakeholders, reducing risk, and building in learning cycles so you can adapt plans amid changing conditions.
Table of Contents
- Introduction: A strategic mindset for project success.
- Your strategic foundation
- Involve stakeholders early
- What are you trying to achieve, and why?
- How will you measure success?
- What conditions need to exist?
- How will you get there?
- Adapting with learning cycles
- About the Author
Have you ever been part of a project that seemed to be an empty exercise in chart maintenance? Terry Schmidt shows you how to avoid that pitfall by designing your project to provide real strategic value to your company. He also provides excellent tools you can use on every project to make sure that its work is meaningful, that your logical design for the project is sound and that you have organized its work in purposeful chunks. Since project management depends on people, Schmidt shows you how to involve your colleagues, team members and stakeholders. He organizes his chapters for clarity and ends them with summaries of the main points. He provides the forms you need, and explains how to adapt and use them. Schmidt illustrates his principles with real-world examples drawn from his long experience consulting with companies and governments. He even throws in some nice humor and a few quite funny cartoons. We recommend this helpful, thoughtful look at project management. Schmidt goes beyond explaining the right techniques to focus on doing projects in a way that provides strategic value.
- Think strategically and focus on a project’s purpose, not on its tools and charts.
- Give your project a strategic structure by knowing what you are doing and why.
- Check your project assumptions by testing if-then connections. Learn as the project progresses and incorporate what you learn back into the project.
- Multiple projects will align properly only if you carefully point them at the same strategic goal.
- You can use tracking charts, such as the “Logical Framework” or “Logframe,” to align the strategic elements of your project.
- Never mistake dealing with problems for managing your project to fulfill its purpose.
- Use only verifiable, meaningful project measurements, not just those that are easy to get.
- Look outside your project to its larger context to find its objectives and purpose.
- The way you “chunk” or segment your project’s work will determine the coherence of your team’s assignments.
- Spend real effort on managing your project through effective management of people.
Introduction: A strategic mindset for project success.
Successful project delivery in today’s rapid-paced business environment requires going beyond traditional management techniques. The key is to lead strategically – which involves tightly aligning initiatives to organizational strategy while maintaining the flexibility to adapt plans based on changing conditions and learnings.
This summary to Terry Schmidt’s Strategic Project Management Made Simple outlines everything you need to know to meet these challenges. Whether you’re starting a new project or redirecting efforts midstream, get ready to hop into the mindset of a strategic thinker.
Your strategic foundation
Laying a solid strategic foundation is crucial to project success. To start, you need to define your objectives and link them in an “if-then” logic flow. The Logical Framework Approach, often shown as a LogFrame matrix, can help you here. It’s a tool for structured project planning and management that enables you to clearly outline a project’s main objectives and track their progress.
Here’s a simplified structure of a LogFrame matrix:
In your first row, your goal encompasses the broader objective the project aims to contribute to. This is usually at the company level – where are you heading in the long term?
Next up is your purpose, or outcome – the direct impact of the project. You’ll get a little more specific here. Why are you doing this project, and how does it support your longer term goals?
Third are your outputs, which are the specific results or products that need to be produced to accomplish the purpose. Outputs are tangible deliverables that are totally in your team’s control.
In your final row, list your activities – the tasks that need to be done to achieve the outputs. These are your specific, day-to-day actions.
For each of these components, you’re going to look at four strategic questions to help you define the objectives, measurement metrics, assumptions, and specific plans of the project: What are you trying to accomplish, and why? How will you measure success? What conditions must exist? And how will you get there?
But before we dive into each of these critical questions, let’s talk about who’s going to be involved in answering them: the project stakeholders.
Involve stakeholders early
Effective stakeholder management is essential to executing your project smoothly. Begin by bringing the key players on board early; this will build the commitment that’s critical for success.
To do this, identify all your project stakeholders – including customers and end-users. Also consider the project team members, sponsors, participating organizations, vendors, gatekeepers controlling needed resources, and even opponents or potential blockers.
Analyze each stakeholder’s interests, influence, and the level of support they’re likely to provide compared to what’s needed. If gaps exist, take proactive steps to get their buy-in.
There are a number of ways to approach this. You can communicate your vision, and try to convince them through reasoned discussion. Other methods include accommodating their interests in the solution, negotiating trading support on this project for future payback, applying pressure through legitimate power, or appealing to them through relationships.
Remember, people support what they help create. So involve stakeholders directly in planning activities like collaborative LogFrame sessions. This not only builds shared ownership and commitment – it also surfaces issues early on and shapes win-win plans from the get-go.
Throughout the project’s execution, engage stakeholders with regular communications and updates. Continuously monitor their landscape for changes that may impact levels of support – and be ready to take corrective actions if they start slipping.
Proactivity people management is the name of the game when it comes to project leadership. With aligned stakeholders, you’ll pave a much smoother road to success. Now it’s time to return to our strategic questions.
What are you trying to achieve, and why?
It may seem obvious that you need a clear project objective in order to achieve it – and yet surprisingly, many projects often start with hazy goals.
Enter the first critical strategic question: “What are you trying to accomplish, and why?”
To get clarity, carefully diagnose the problem. Don’t settle for an oversimplified definition or catchphrase. Dig to find the right problem – one that’s worth solving. Then establish your objectives, using precise language with well-chosen verbs and descriptors.
Remember to distinguish between objective levels: the goal, purpose, outputs, and activities. This is the point where you specify what each of these objective levels are, and check their logic.
For instance, you might want to increase your market share for a particular product. This is your goal. Then, the purpose of your project might be increasing customer adoption of your product. The outputs of your project should directly support this purpose – you’re going to launch this feature, run this test, and build this campaign. Make sure your outputs are measurable and have a deadline, so you know exactly what you need to achieve, and when. Finally, describe the smaller activities needed to achieve these outputs.
This hierarchy also creates a management contract that clarifies accountability. For example, the project manager is responsible for generating outputs that achieve the purpose.
Carefully examine presumed “if-then” links between levels to strengthen your strategy’s validity – and avoid wishful thinking or faulty logic. This could look something like, “If we achieve the output of a new product feature, then we’ll accomplish the purpose of customers adopting it. If we accomplish that purpose, then we’ll reach the goal of increased market share.”
At every level, ask yourself whether your hypothesis seems reasonable. When you clearly define objectives and fit them into true if-then statements, you provide a solid project backbone. This thinking moves teams from fuzzy notions to solid alignment around a common goal.
How will you measure success?
So you know what you want to do. But how will you know when you’ve actually done it?
Defining quantifiable measures of success is vital for project clarity and focus. To gain this clarity, ask yourself the second key question: “How will you measure success?”
The solution is simple: put in measure indicators at every objective level.
Goal measures capture macro, long-term impacts. For instance, this could be a 5 percent increase in customer satisfaction or 10 percent growth in market share.
Purpose measures define the conditions that will exist if the project succeeds. They often use “from-to” thinking. For example, if customers adopt the new system, the user rate will improve from 20 percent to 40 percent.
Output measures detail the quality, quantity, and timeframe specifications for project deliverables. This might mean a training course completed by 150 employees in Q3 with a test score of 80 percent.
Activity measures track costs, timelines, and quality metrics for tasks – like meeting project budgets and milestones.
Quantify your measures wherever possible, and identify specific means of verification. Reports, surveys, or observations can all help you tangibly track your progress.
Be sure to make special attention to your purpose measures. These are the most important of the bunch because they reflect real-world success versus something like output measures, which just describe project completion. For instance, a training course could be delivered on time, but did participants actually improve their skills?
Track what matters, not just what’s easy. Well-defined, verifiable measures keep teams focused on producing actual impact – not just finishing activities. They provide an objective yardstick to assess progress and redirect efforts if needed.
What conditions need to exist?
Every project rests on assumptions – those pesky, uncertain external factors. But assumptions often go unacknowledged, sinking progress when they fail. Answering the third question, “What conditions must exist?” helps prevent unexpected surprises by bringing any hidden risks to light.
Let’s be clear: assumptions always exist, whether they’re verified or not. So make those implicit assumptions explicit! Articulate and document them to avoid preventable disappointments stemming from vague or faulty definitions. When you invest time upfront to identify and validate the key assumptions your strategy relies on, you’ll save time later. Look for anything that’s potentially deal-breaking – and address it early on.
As you formulate your assumptions, express your desired conditions using quantity, quality, and timeline measures where possible. Again, place them at each appropriate LogFrame level – goal, purpose, output, activity. Try to cover every factor that could potentially impact the project.
For example, at the goal level, you might have a funding approval assumption. At your purpose level, employees adopt the new system as intended. At the output level, the technology integrates with existing IT systems as expected. At the activity level, your team completes the user research within a given timeframe.
Determine which assumptions are the focus of another team’s project. Communicate (and communicate, and communicate some more) to minimize negative cross-project consequences. Then analyze the likelihood – and impact – of your assumptions failing. Rank them as high, medium, or low risk. Focus on managing the high risk assumptions, and have backup plans ready to mitigate them just in case.
Proactively surfacing and testing assumptions reduces surprises, and enables you to adapt plans to changing conditions. It’s a key step in converting strategy into reality.
How will you get there?
With your strategy set, the next step is detailing exactly how you’re going to bridge objectives to on-the-ground action. Asking the final strategic question – “How will you get there?” – brings focus to your execution efforts.
Begin by breaking the project into logical phases, or chunks, and naming and framing each one. Plan near-term chunks in detail while outlining more distant chunks at a higher level. For example, the detailed plan for Phase 1 might contain 25 tasks, while Phase 2 has 10 placeholder tasks. This focuses resources where they’re needed today while scoping future work.
Use the LogFrame activities row to summarize key tasks at a high level. Then employ tools like work breakdown structures, schedules, and responsibility matrixes for more detailed planning. For instance, the LogFrame may list “Conduct R&D” as an activity, while the work plan details the specific R&D tasks required.
It’s important to maintain line of sight through your objective hierarchy, all the way from activities up to goals: R&D tasks should clearly link to output deliverables, which in turn should enable the project purpose and goal.
When listing your activities, identify task sequences, predecessors, and dependencies to spot any issues sooner than later. Define resources needed for each task to develop a realistic budget. Clarify roles in a responsibility matrix to ensure accountability. And schedule key milestones and completion dates to track progress.
Smart project chunking coupled with high-level LogFrame planning provides a solid bridge between objectives and detailed execution plans, so you’ll know exactly where you stand throughout the process.
Adapting with learning cycles
In this final section, we’re going to talk about flexibility – because, let’s face it, reality often deviates from even the best-laid plans. This is where strategic learning cycles come in. Building in a way that allows you to continuously monitor, review, and evaluate progress means you can easily make adjustments – and keep projects nimble and relevant.
Monitoring helps you understand your tactical progress: Are you on track to produce the outputs as planned? It focuses on translating activities into deliverables, and managing the budget and schedule.
Reviewing takes a periodic high-level look at your strategy. Given new learnings or changing conditions, it asks if the project is still on track to achieve its purpose and goals. Reviews consistently challenge the plan – and strengthen it.
Evaluating occurs once the project is complete. It assesses whether the project accomplished its purpose and moved the needle on its goals. Evaluation answers the question, “Did you get the impact you wanted?”
Build in milestones for these strategic check-ins upfront, and use your assessments to update plans and teams based on new insights. They can help you refine your objectives, measures, and activities in the LogFrame. Plan strategic reviews before launching new phases. Schedule post-project evaluations to cement learnings.
Being flexible and making adjustments based on feedback helps you keep your plans current, steward resources wisely, and incorporate new lessons. Just like a skilled navigator, monitoring provides course corrections while reviewing and evaluation ensure you reach your destination.
Project Management Is Much More Than Charts
Whether your project is big or small, you can use strategic tools and approaches to manage it effectively.
The most important project management task is to understand exactly what you are trying to do, what success will look like and how you will know you have reached it.
“The question of what the project should accomplish and…why it needs to be done, deserves fine-tuned attention because those answers drive everything else.”
Avoid six common project-planning mistakes:
- Having fuzzy objectives – When you begin a project without a clear destination you will end up doing a great deal of unusable work.
- Working without context – If you don’t know how your effort fits into a larger picture, you probably are working without the ability to make course corrections.
- Using the wrong tools – Use the right tools, not just the easily available tools.
- Believing stakeholders don’t matter – No project exists in isolation. Be sure your work has meaning for those who will assess what you produce.
- Being too busy to plan – If you don’t take the time to plan well, you will miss deadlines, and you will waste time and resources fixing mistakes.
- Wasting people because you lack a plan – Happy people work well; frustrated people don’t. Without a plan, your team will be frustrated. They’ll have no idea what to do.
“Traditional project management focuses on task-level details and loses sight of the benefits projects aim to deliver…conventional approaches perpetuate tunnel vision…when we need…the big picture.”
Start your projects correctly with good planning. If you are an executive sponsoring a project, be sure your project leaders understand the strategic intent of their assigned tasks.
Savvy project managers understand how advantageous it is to work on a well-designed undertaking.
Projects with Strong Structures
To gather the information you need to give your project real structure, ask four “critical strategic questions”:
- What do we need to get done and why do we need to do it? – You might think this answer is obvious, but as you listen carefully to the responses executives and team members give to this question, you may hear a surprising range of answers. You need to know the “what” and “why” of your project, or nothing else will matter.
- What will success look like and how do we measure it? – Some measurements are easy, but irrelevant, so skip them. Look at what your project is intended to do so you can define success. Then figure out what metrics to use to measure it.
- What makes success possible? – Don’t focus just on the elements you control. Look at the larger context and catalog the outside factors you depend upon to succeed. What other influences, such as training and resource availability, can also affect your success?
- How are you going to get from here to there? – With the first three questions answered, begin digging into the project’s details. Determine everything you have to do to fulfill its purposes and accomplish each task.
Sometime You Do Want a Chart
The answers to these questions are pivotal to planning your project. You can use them to fill out a “Logical Framework” chart. The “Logframe” is a four-by-four grid showing a project’s “objectives, success measures, verification (of those measures) and assumptions” across the top, and the project’s “goals, purpose, outcomes and inputs” down the left side. Once you fill in this grid with data drawn from your answers to the four strategic questions, you can compare adjacent boxes using “if-then” conditional reasoning to be sure that all the elements of the project align.
“Achieving organization excellence is an ongoing process, not a one-shot workshop event.”
The Logframe has many applications; at its heart, it provides a solid, logical foundation for framing a project. It can help you structure project evaluations, set a course for team learning and development, and create strategic IT structures and algorithms. However, it is a strategic summary and alignment tool, not a detailed action plan. The time to begin using a Logframe is at the beginning of a project. In fact, the more outside your organizational culture the project is, the more useful the Logframe chart will be in helping you develop a handle on it.
Projects and Corporate Strategy
If your company is working through many projects at the same time, each one should connect to your overall strategy because the projects’ end results are likely to feed into each other. You don’t want to be like a crew building a tunnel, working from opposite directions, only to find that the ends are far apart when you thought you were ready to join them.
“A good design, developed and supported by the team, has a much better chance of success than a perfect design developed by a project manager…with only minor team involvement.”
Take eight steps to create a logical project plan:
- Make the context of the project planning clear and the issues explicit.
- Be sure you’ve included the project’s main players, including stakeholders.
- Check the context of the project, including all affected business units.
- Develop a team vision of your goal and a mission statement of how to accomplish it.
- Constantly seek to improve the value you are adding and how you measure it.
- Distill your goals into core strategies and analyze them against your metrics.
- Implement the core strategies to create your project execution plan.
- Update the plans and follow up; cycle the process again as needed.
Know What You Are Trying to Accomplish
Charging out to solve problems won’t lead to a successful project. Use careful analysis to convert each problem into a clear objective. Get to the detailed root cause of the problem. Avoid foggy targets; to get real work done, you must be clear and concise. Create separate objectives for your outcomes and purposes, which are not the same thing. Outcomes are the results of the project’s work. Purposes are the reason you want to achieve those results, that is, the impact created when the project reaches its goals.
“Project management is like juggling three balls – time, cost and quality. Program management is like a troupe of circus performers standing in a circle, each juggling three balls and swapping balls from time to time.” (G. Reiss)
List, track and manage each result in terms of what you promised to deliver, when you will deliver it and what resources you need. Carefully analyze your if-then links and challenge every premise to be sure it is worthwhile. Better approaches to your work will pay solid rewards, including a richer fulfillment of each objective and the project’s purpose.
“The three major resources of interest are time, people and assets. A wisely chunked activity list is the starting point for the schedules, responsibility charts and resource budgets.”
To find out if you are accomplishing your project’s purpose and each of its objectives, determine how you are going to measure results. As you select measurements, describe them in clear sentences and bullet points. Determine how you will verify or authenticate each measure. If you can’t truly verify a measurement, it isn’t worth gathering. Repeat the process of choosing and writing the measures and verification methods for each project goal and result. Then set the document aside for at least several days. Come back to it with a clear mind and look at it again. You are likely to find things you can improve.
“Measures are the instruments on your project dashboard, so choose those needed to intelligently guide your project journey.”
Never decide on your measurements too quickly. They are very important to your ability to manage the project, so dedicate the necessary time to get them right.
To understand the context or environment of your project, first identify the core conditional assumptions you made when designing it. Determine how likely the events you posited are to happen. What would be the impact on your project if they do occur? What can you do to prevent negative outcomes or to encourage beneficial ones? Assign dollar costs to the negative events and to the methods of preventing them so you can determine what to do. Once you have the right cost-benefit analysis, start working on your project and managing external influences as well as you can, along with making sure it fulfills its purpose on time and in budget.
The “Strategic Action Cycle”
Use a “Think-Plan-Act-Assess” learning cycle to create a logical path for managing your project’s iterations. Establish milestones with their own evaluation processes. Hold periodic replanning and evaluation sessions to ensure that your project remains on track – and on the right track – to meet its deadlines and objectives, and to fulfill its purpose.
The Role of “Chunking”
Divide your project work into segments at the very beginning, but do it with careful thought. How you “chunk” your work will determine its flow and will shape your results. Every project is concerned with time, people and assets. Express these concerns in terms of “schedules, responsibility and resource budgets.” Give each chunk a logical, descriptive name and include it in your tracking.
“Purpose measures are the most important…that’s your primary aiming point, the what-should-occur result you expect after you deliver what you can.”
Set up a “Responsibility Chart” to coordinate project tasks and assign them as specific jobs. Describe final jobs in narrative form, setting out the work in progressive levels of detail. Make detailed descriptions of immediate work, tightly summarized descriptions of a broader view of the project, and something in between for mid-view program management. Focus on the details of the next piece of work you need to accomplish.
“If we manage inputs, then we can produce or deliver outcomes. If we produce or deliver outcomes, then we will achieve a purpose. If we achieve a purpose, then we contribute to an important goal.”
Be ready to modify your chunking as your project progresses, and as you re-evaluate and assess your results. Keep this process human and positive by celebrating the accomplishment of project steps and involving your staff in successes.
Projects and People
Unless your project is very small, you will need to work with and through other people. As the project manager, you need to understand your people as well as their tasks to ensure that you create good matches between jobs and skills. If you manage people so that they succeed and then celebrate those successes with them, you will get a lot more done than you will if you manage them by correcting mistakes. By centering everyone’s work on alignment and strategy, you can get all the participants to talk about the same things in the same language. This will powerfully support your team-building efforts.
“We sometimes equate project management with the visible planning artifacts – timelines, budgets and reports.”
Keep the planning process going, and change your tracking and strategy documents as needed. In the end, the process of project planning is more important that the actual documents you create. Do not become so obsessed by what is on the page that you take your project down a blind alley. Assess the support of your stakeholders, so you know if you need to fill in gaps with them. Try to help them feel invested in your project’s success.
“But the heart and soul of every project concerns people – their relationships, skills and ability to work as a team.”
Remain self-aware. Keep an eye on your personal energy for the project, and your emotional highs and lows. Continue to sharpen your interpersonal abilities. Emotional intelligence (EI) is a powerful indicator of project management success. If you have high EI, you will be better able to assemble a team, manage others, gain their support and help the team through tough times. You will understand when to make adjustments to keep your team motivated and performing at a high level.
“Call your team to the harmony of excellence and enjoy the tabernacle choir sounds of their harmonized efforts.”
No matter how serious the purpose of the project is, ensure the daily work isn’t drudgery and keep the team’s mood light. People sag under too much weight each day.
Real World Rather than Theory
Take these steps to provide your project with a big return:
- Keep your strategic plan relevant and up-to-date.
- Break down project silos by building teams across them.
- When performance lags, refresh the workload by reinventing your team.
- Use your project to support the company’s strategic marketing and sales programs.
- Continually improve each process so it provides a better output.
- Focus on strategy and purpose in your decision and recommendation process.
- If a hot potato shows up in your project, bake it by defining the issue, transforming it into an objective and designing your solution.
- Use brainstorming to break through the logjam if a piece of your project gets stuck.
- Make sure your people have a good place to go after the project ends.
To successfully execute initiatives in today’s turbulent business landscape, you need a strategic mindset. Use the Logical Framework, ask critical questions, and proactively manage stakeholders to align your project plans to your organizational strategy. Doing so will enable your team to drive results while maintaining the flexibility to adapt based on learnings and evolving conditions.
You have the tools to guide your team’s efforts and create tangible impact – now put them into action!
About the Author
Terry Schmidt is a certified project management professional (PMP with 30-plus years of experience. He teaches project management at UCLA and the University of Wisconsin.
Productivity, Management, Leadership, Career Success
“Strategic Project Management Made Simple: Solution Tools for Leaders and Teams” by Terry Dean Schmidt is a comprehensive guide that aims to provide leaders and project managers with the necessary tools and strategies to effectively manage projects. The book offers practical insights and actionable advice for successfully executing projects and achieving strategic goals.
Schmidt begins by discussing the importance of strategic project management and how it aligns with an organization’s overall objectives. He emphasizes the need for a clear project vision and outlines the key steps involved in developing a strategic project plan. The author highlights the significance of stakeholder management and effective communication throughout the project lifecycle.
One of the book’s central themes is the concept of solution-driven project management. Schmidt emphasizes the need to focus on providing solutions rather than getting caught up in problems. He presents a range of tools and techniques that can be applied to identify and address project challenges proactively. The author also delves into risk management and highlights the importance of contingency planning.
The book covers various aspects of project execution, including team leadership, resource allocation, and monitoring progress. Schmidt emphasizes the role of effective leadership in motivating teams and fostering a collaborative environment. He provides guidance on how to select and develop high-performing project teams and offers strategies for managing conflicts and resolving issues that may arise during the project lifecycle.
Throughout the book, Schmidt emphasizes the importance of adaptability and flexibility in the face of changing circumstances. He discusses ways to navigate through ambiguity and uncertainty, and provides insights into agile project management methodologies. The author also explores the role of project closure and the importance of capturing lessons learned for future projects.
“Strategic Project Management Made Simple” is a valuable resource for leaders and project managers seeking practical guidance on successfully managing projects. Schmidt’s writing style is clear and concise, making complex concepts accessible to a broad audience. The book is well-structured, with each chapter building upon the previous one, facilitating a logical progression of ideas.
One of the book’s strengths is its focus on providing practical tools and techniques. Schmidt offers a wide range of solution-driven approaches that can be readily implemented in real-world project scenarios. The emphasis on proactive problem-solving and risk management is particularly valuable, as it promotes a mindset of anticipating and mitigating challenges before they become major obstacles.
Another notable aspect of the book is its emphasis on leadership and team dynamics. Schmidt recognizes the importance of effective leadership in project success and offers valuable insights into building and leading high-performing teams. The strategies and advice provided can help project managers navigate the complexities of team dynamics, conflicts, and motivation.
The author’s inclusion of agile project management methodologies is a relevant addition to the book. Recognizing the growing popularity of agile approaches, Schmidt provides insights into how traditional project management principles can be adapted to suit agile environments. This makes the book relevant to both traditional and agile project managers.
While the book covers a wide range of topics, some readers may find certain sections to be more detailed than necessary. Additionally, a few examples and case studies could further enhance the practicality of the concepts discussed. However, these minor shortcomings do not significantly detract from the overall value of the book.
In conclusion, “Strategic Project Management Made Simple” is a comprehensive and actionable guide for leaders and project managers. It provides a wealth of practical tools, strategies, and insights that can be applied to effectively manage projects and achieve strategic goals. Schmidt’s expertise and experience shine through, making this book a valuable resource for anyone involved in project management.