Tag Archives: SPM

18 Transformational Questions for your Mid-Year Career and Life Review

The great Mark Twain reminds us that we should take our brains out once in a while and stomp on them because they get all caked up. Let’s stomp!

I’m a firm believer in the value of asking brain-shaking questions at least twice a year.  Since the first half of 2018 is history, now is a great time to ponder the following 18 questions… half reflect back on the months past, and half look ahead.

Relish these questions, add more, journal answers to them on your own, or share with others.

Reviewing the past six months….

  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 projects made you feel most alive and why?
  4. What are the greatest family experiences you enjoyed?
  5. What work contributions do you feel most proud of?
  6. What did you do that most contribute to your personal mission and vision?
  7. What’s the most meaningful thing you did for the three people you love the most?
  8. What was the biggest risk you took and how did it turn out?
  9. What obsolete goals are you willing to let go of now?

Fast-forwarding the next six months…

  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 these next six months?
  3. What would you have to believe about yourself to make the coming months your best ever?
  4. What limiting beliefs would be useful to drop?
  5. What new or neglected old hobby would you like to experience?
  6. What are three ways you can work more productively while reducing frustration and stress?
  7. How will you help others to be more successful?
  8. What BHAP (“Big Hairy Audacious Project”) could you create that would transform your team or company?
  9. What “Super Hero skills” would accelerate your success?

Now, with fresh insights bubbling in your brain, identify some transformative action items. Get moving, so that the last half of 2018 is your most enjoyable, productive, and loving season of your life.

To learn the 4 Cornerstone Questions that result in transformational projects in work and life, 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.

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.

Overcoming Huge Obstacles Under Extreme Pressure…

Imagine you worked for Los Alamos National Laboratory as a technical specialist, and you discovered there was the raw material for 20,000 radioactive dirty bombs in civilians hands… spread throughout the United States, and you were in charge of finding them.

What would you do?

Quick Facts:

  • Over 20,0000 “sealed-source ” radioactive “fit in your pocket” sized devices exist that could easily be turned into dirty bombs.
  • These small devices, ranging in size from a button to a cell phone, are sealed metal containers with neutron-emitting radioactive material inside. These were issued to universities and private companies by the US government starting in the 1950s for research, geological exploration, and medical diagnostics.
  • The potential for causing widespread and economic catastrophe was huge. By strapping a stick of dynamite to a sealed source and setting it off in a densely populated area, terrorists could release radiation that would make major areas uninhabitable for years.
  •  Truly a scary proposition, with the potential for disaster if they were not safely secured before the bad guys got them.
  • US Department of Energy was aware of the problem, but solving it remained a low priority and was never received adequate funding.

The Project: Create, manage and implement the Offsite Recovery Project (OSRP) to find, transport and then dispose of all 20,000 potential dirty bombs, before they could be used by terrorists

Project Challenges:

✓   The issue had been neglected for years.

✓   There was no budget.

✓   No disposal standards existed for this class of device, so new standards would have to be developed and be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

✓   No existing radioactive waste disposal site would accept them.

✓   The project team was made up of opinionated technical experts from over 12 agencies and the private sector, with NO COMMON LANGUAGE.

✓   Each of these scientists bought unique technical jargon and preferred operating procedures … and they would all have to come to a consensus BEFORE any plan could be implemented

Project Manager Profile = Accidental Project Manager

Chuck was a PhD nuclear physicist at the lab, with ZERO training in project management who had become the “accidental project manager,” thrust into this critical role because of his technical expertise.

Chuck’s Unspoken Concerns:

  1. I’ve never done this before – what if I screw up and people die?
  2. I’ve never done this before, I have no leverage or authority over agencies I needed to take action – who will listen to me?
  3. How will I get everyone to talk the same language, and get beyond their own agendas?
  4. Could this kill my career?
  5. If I don’t do this, who will? … it has to be done, no matter what the personal consequences for me – as a concerned citizen, as a family man, I have to do my part.
  6. How do I get started?

The Action Plan

Chuck and I first met when he attended a Managing Critical Projects workshop I taught at the LANL Management Institute. Chuck was comfortable solving scientific problems, but managing complex high-stake projects were new to him.

When he called me for advice – I told him to follow the 4 Cornerstone Questions FormatI’d originally taught him.

Chuck knew that before he got to the details of the plan he had to get everyone in agreement and on the same page so he began by writing this team Objective on the board:

“Team prepares a clear, comprehensive work plan for developing disposal options for field sources”.

They began with the first question – WHY are we doing this project and WHAT must we deliver?, then worked their way through the 4 cornerstone questions.

They sketched out a cause and effect logic chain, which visually linked their work plan through the sequence of intermediate Objectives needed to reach the Goal of Protect the Health and Safety of the nation. They came to an agreement on the big-picture strategy to solve this problem – knowing the details would come from those agreements.

Utilizing the Logical Frameworks matrix I had provided, Chuck quickly went from doubting himself and being overwhelmed with the scope of the project – to being a confident leader – BECAUSE HE HAD A PROVEN SUCCESS TEMPLATE TO FOLLOW … and it worked.

The Results

  • These dangerous weapons are now safely under control. Whew! One less thing to worry about…we can all breathe easier.
  • Accomplished their goal ahead of schedule – unusual in projects of this type.
  • The project received official LANL recognition for outstanding planning and execution.
  • Team members felt justifiably proud and rewarded for using “Project Superpowers” on a job well done.

To learn the 4 Cornerstone Questions and Project Super Power strategies Chuck used to go from doubt to confidence and success, click here to register for my one hour Project Super Power System training at no cost.


Terry Schmidt is a business strategist, keynoter, and 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.