Tag Archives: planning

Test Your Core Values: Are they Meaningless Fluff or Powerful Stuff?

I recently facilitated an off-site planning retreat for top managers in an underperforming technical department in a division of a Fortune 500 company. They needed a fresh start and invited me to help them revise their strategy, establish metrics, and launch key initiatives. But…

Prescribing a solution without first diagnosing the problem is malpractice, whether in medicine or management consulting.  Just as a doctor begins by measuring the vital signs —blood pressure, heart beat, and temperature– I began by determining consensus around vision, mission, and values.

Too many organizations treat these guiding principles are little more than ”wall art”, colorful posters which decorate hallways and conference rooms. But leaders in high-performing companies have discovered how to make them powerful management tools which align head and heart.


Here is a simple process you can use to test whether your team shares consensus around the vision and mission. This “secret sauce” process works well with 6 to 30 persons from a senior management team, an intact work unit, a project team, or other groupings.

Start by handing out two blank 3 x 5 cards and have each person write down their organization’s vision and mission on one card, and values on another from memory (without glancing around for clues).  Then collect the cards, give them a good shuffle and distribute them randomly.

Going around the room, have each person read out the vision and mission statements on the card they receive. If the statements are reasonably close, congratulations. But if they diverge, or if a recent reorganization or major market shift has occurred, begin by crafting brand new statements. (My next article in this series describes how to do that.)

In less than two hours, this tech group developed vision and mission statements that resonated with all. After a well-earned break, we then turned to values.

Ask yourself…


When it comes to your corporate values, do people consistently walk the talk, or do they usually stumble the mumble?

The tech group members next swapped the 3×5 cards people wrote their values on and again shared. People recalled most of them but acknowledged that in practice, these values were mostly given lip service.

If an official set of core values currently exists, you can test their potency by determining…

1.Can people recite their essence?

2. Do people really believe in them?

3. Do people reference them in daily work?

4. Do customers embrace similar values?

5. Do they translate into measurable behaviors?

The group recalled most of them, but acknowledged that values were mostly given lip service.

At the risk of committing heresy , try this surprisingly simple process which my clients love because it brings values alive. I call it localizing your values.

Localizing your values means custom-creating a value set which optimizes group performance. Corporate values tend to be too broad and general. The values which make an effective Engineering Department differ from the optimum value set of Legal, R&D, HR, and other departments. One size does not fit all.


Here’s an easy way to get the ball rolling. Brainstorm a list of answers to the following question:

What values would be present if we were living our mission, doing great work, advancing our careers, serving our customers, making money, and having fun?

Plenty of ideas spilled out which I captured on a whiteboard. After some rewording, massaging and combining, we ended up with an emotionally engaging set that all rallied around.

(Check out this brief video entitled Refresh Your Core Values which explains how to facilitate this process with large groups.)

The energy in the room was running high because the group now had a sense of shared purpose. People were excited and united. With this foundation in place, we then moved on to develop a smarter strategy, define metrics, and launch key initiatives.

While it’s still too early to report measurable results, the process galvanized the team and the retreat concluded with renewed energy, commitment, caring, and confidence.


Blizzard Entertainment is an industry leader in massive multi-player online role-playing games. This 4,000 person company offers a stellar example of how the best firms put values to practical and profitable use.

Several years ago, Blizzard co-founder Frank Pearce invited me to facilitate a leadership session to develop their mission and values, a task they had failed to accomplish in several previous attempts.

In what was an engaging and high-energy approach befitting their fast-paced culture, we identified 8 core values. They included gameplay first; commit to quality; play nice, play fair, and my favorite — embrace your inner geek.

Everyone there was impressed by what we accomplished during the fast-paced workshop, but what impressed me is what happened after.

Blizzard literally puts their values at the very center of their company. Their central campus courtyard proudly features a 12-foot-high cast bronze statue of a favorite game character. A giant compass surrounds this statue, and at each of the 8 compass points, one of their core values is engraved in a bronze plaque set into the ground. (The video Blizzard Entertainment – Putting Your Values Front & Center! visually walks you through their values and explains how they apply them.)

Blizzard employees take these values seriously. They consciously refer to them in daily work and when making key decisions. When Blizzard interviews a potential hire, they ask which value most resonates with them and why. Because everyone from the CEO to game designers to customer service reps embrace and live these values, their retention rates lead the industry and the company continues to produce award-winning games and events.


Be honest with yourself. Do the values your group practices make you eager to go to work each day? Do they promote a high-performance, collaborative culture where people perform at their best and the company thrives? Or have they gone stale?

When would now be a good time to give them an upgrade?


Terry Schmidt is a business strategist and author of Strategic Project Management Made Simple, and chief honcho at ManagementPro.com.

Are you a Frustrated and Overworked Project Manager?

For over 30 years now I’ve trained and worked with project managers in Fortune 100s, government agencies, research institutions and fast-growing businesses all over the world. I believe that project managers like you are the unsung heroes of our time because we are responsible for 90% of the positive changes in the world.

But I’m upset. In the last two years, I’ve noticed a huge problem for project managers and teams. And it’s getting worse. While the pressure to deliver successful projects is increasing, so are the obstacles in our way.

Let me candidly ask you – ever had a day when your project was/is a nightmare of frustration?

  • Can’t get stakeholders on the same page?
  • Nasty problems suddenly arise?
  • Your team is busy … but not productive?
  • Blindsided by impossible deadlines?
  • The goals are constantly changing?
  • Endless and unproductive meetings?
  • You get blamed for failure when it’s not fault?

If so you are not alone.

That drives me crazy, and I’m on the hunt for solutions to help you do your work better, protect your job, and advance your company and your career. I am fully committed to finding practical solutions that let you get home on time for dinner with your family for a change, instead of having to work late into the evening and on weekends fixing problems that should never have occurred in the first place.

But first I need to know what’s bothering you the most.

So help me out. I’m doing a 2-question survey to identify the main problems you are having and to offer practical solutions. It’ll only take 2 minutes and I’ll share the results with you and my suggested solutions. Go here now.

I am so sick and tired of seeing smart and committed men and women battling obstacles that shouldn’t even be there. Aren’t you? Share your frustration now.


Terry Schmidt is a business strategist and author of Strategic Project Management Made Simple, and chief honcho at ManagementPro.com. He helps people of all backgrounds to transform their ability to get great results faster and smoother.  Check out the video lesson titled THE PROJECT SUPER HERO SYSTEM to discover the #1 preventable reason most projects fail before they even start. (This lesson will be taken down in 48 hours, so see it now.)

Outfox Murphy’s Law by Managing Your Project Assumptions — or Else!

After NASA’s $125 million Mars Orbiter crashed during the landing phase, a later analysis showed that the spacecraft builders worked in the metric system. NASA assumed, but for some reason failed to verify, that the builders were using the English measurement system of feet and inches. Thus, the Orbiter’s computer contained bogus data and the mission failed.

And when “Company XYZ’s” strategic plan crashed during execution, a review showed that the core strategic planning team defined the future vision and set vague goals without much stakeholder involvement. They assumed, but failed to obtain, that there would be strong support those affected by their plans. This assumption was bogus and their strategy failed.

Whether you are shooting for Mars or aiming someplace closer, many missions that matter crash on the hard rocks of reality when an implicit but unmanaged assumption went awry.

Murphy and his infamous law dwell in the murky mess of invalid assumptions — those conditions which must exist for the strategy to be valid. The graveyard of failed strategic plans is littered with undefined, unexamined, and untested assumptions such as:

  • Top management support is etched in stone on this one.
  • Everyone is in the loop and on-board for the entire ride.
  • We have a good balanced scorecard and that should be sufficient.
  • No use wasting too much ink because we all know plans change.

Assumptions Matter

Invalid assumptions are the soft underbelly of achieving strategic goals. When bad things happen to good strategies, erroneous assumptions are often to blame.

Every strategy and project plan rests on assumptions—whether or not they are acknowledged or verified.

The best strategic thinkers, planners, and change agents take the time to identify, examine, and validate their underlying assumptions. Faulty assumptions act as invisible beds of quicksand, eager to suck good intentions under. How do you surface the most relevant ones?

There are two levels at which assumptions analysis can help planners to reality-base their work. One level concerns assumptions made about the implications of trends and factors that show up during an environmental scan.

There’s an old story about two European shoe salesmen sent to adjacent regions of Africa to study sales potential. The first reported back that since no one wore shoes, there was zero sales potential. The second reported that since no one wore shoes, the potential was infinite. Both salesmen noted the same underlying facts, but reached diametrically opposed conclusions. These contrasting conclusions reveal very different mental models and assumption at play. This phenomenon can also occur during strategic planning and among strategic planner as well, because we seldom bother to make explicit our implicit assumptions.

Ask yourself, “What should we assume?” or “What are we assuming?” in such categories as:

  • Planning Team Members
  • Related Projects
  • Stakeholders Interests
  • Willingness to Change
  • Management Support
  • Customer Expectations
  • Technical Issues
  • Political Climate
  • Resource Availability
  • Competing Concerns

Three Steps for Managing Assumptions

Your own experience may confirm just how many strategic initiatives fall flat due to faulty, ill-formed, undefined or unexamined assumptions.

Assumptions always exist, whether or not we acknowledge or verify them. You need to get them out of your head and onto paper.

Try this simple three-step process to surface easily-overlooked potential deal beakers which deserve your attention.

Step 1. Identify Key Assumptions.

Get your core team together, or fly solo, and use these kick-off questions to surface underlying Assumptions:

  • What conditions must exist, and what factors must be true, for this effort to work?
  • How must the world cooperate with us?
  • What else must happen for this to succeed?
  • What else should we assume?

Step 2. Analyze and Test Them

Now you can analyze and test each with questions like these:

  • How important is this Assumption to strategy success or failure?
  • How valid or probable is this Assumption? What are the odds? How do we know?
  • If the Assumptions fails, what is the impact? Does it diminish level of accomplishment? Delay it? Destroy it?
  • What could cause this Assumption to not be valid?” (Note: This one triggers specific risk factors).

Use this first-cut analysis as a jumping-off point for more rigorous risk assessments using conventional risk management techniques.

Step 3. Act On Them

Now subject each assumptions to the following:

  • Is this a reasonable risk to take?
  • To what extent is it amenable to control? Can we manage it? Influence and nudge it? Or only monitor it?
  • How can we design our initiatives to minimize the impact of, or work around, risky Assumptions?
  • What contingency plans might have handy just in case?

Managing Assumptions requires making contingency plans and putting preventive solutions in place. For example, if it absolutely, positively must get there overnight, send identical packages by DHL, UPS and FedEx. If dark storms are brewing, do the organizational equivalent of nailing on plywood and getting a gasoline-powered pump before the hurricane hits! You get the idea.

Steering Assumptions In Your Direction

Question #3 of the 4 Cornerstone Questions helps surface and test your assumptions, so you can either deal with them before they crush your strategy, or monitor them and have a “Plan B” waiting in the wings

When you and your team become adept at managing assumptions, you’ll be better prepared to sail skillfully and courageously across the sea of change washing over us, rather than getting drowned by a strategic tsunami you didn’t see rolling in on the horizon.


To learn the 4 Cornerstone Questions that result in bullet-proof project plans, click here to register for my one hour Project Super Power System training at no cost.


Terry Schmidt is a business strategist, keynoter, author of Strategic Project Management Made Simple, and chief honcho at ManagementPro.com. He helps leaders at all levels to develop the skill set and mindset to accomplish outstanding results.

Making 2018 Your Best Year Ever

Mark Twain reminds us that we should take our brains out once in a while and stomp on them up because they get all caked up. I’m a firm believer in the value of asking provocative questions each December to prepare for the next. Since this year is winding down, now is a great time to ponder the following sets of questions. The first set of 18 questions encourage you to reflect back on 2017, the next 18 anticipate the coming year. Relish these questions on your own, or share with others.

 Reviewing 2017

  1. What has been the very best thing about this year so far for you?
  2. What new skills or talents did you discover in yourself?
  3. What are you most grateful during this year?
  4. What made you feel most alive and why?
  5. What are the greatest family experiences you enjoyed?
  6. What work contributions do you feel most proud of?
  7. What is the most important life lesson you learned?
  8. How did you grow professionally?
  9. Who are the cherished new friends you made?
  10. Who or what inspired you?
  11. What was the best opportunity you took advantage of so far?
  12. What’s the most meaningful thing you did for the three people you love most?
  13. What is the most outrageous thing you did?
  14. What was the biggest risk you took and how did it turn out?
  15. What gave you a real sense of joy?
  16. What was the smartest decision you made?
  17. What most surprised you about yourself?
  18. What obsolete goals are you willing to let go of now?

 Looking Towards 2018

  1. If you could write one news headline about you and make it come true, what would it be?
  2. What will be your number one focus during 2018?
  3. What would you have to believe about yourself to make the coming year your best ever?
  4. What limiting beliefs would be useful to drop?
  5. How can you better support your friends and family?
  6. What new professional skills would be smart to gain?
  7. What is one old limiting habit you are committed to change in the year ahead?
  8. Who do you choose to forgive?
  9. How can you make your community/nation better?
  10. What is one positive new habit you are committed to acquiring?
  11. What is one change you could make to improve your health?
  12. What new or neglected old hobby would you like to spend time on?
  13. How can you add more fun and adventure in the coming year?
  14. What new opportunities do you anticipate will unfold?
  15. What new gifts will you invite to unfold in you?
  16. How will you help others to be more successful?
  17. What would you like to do that would totally surprise most people who know you?
  18. What would become possible for you if suddenly all your limitations disappeared?

Now, with fresh insights bubbling in your brain, turn some of these into action items.  Take some first steps so that the coming year is your most enjoyable, productive, and loving season of your life.


Terry Schmidt facilitates culture-changing and life-inspiring event which boost performance and productivity.  His audiences have included nuclear engineers, psychiatric nurses, state governors, geeks, and CEOs. Check out www.ManagementPro.com for more information.